For years after striking out on my own, I had a dilemma on my hands: being the great-grand-daughter of Irish immigrants, I absolutely love a good corned beef and cabbage on St Patrick’s Day, but I’d be lying if I said I could make a decent one back then. I tried a new cooking method every year, and every year it was the same story: just barely-avoided unmitigated disaster. But really, let’s face it: how could I possibly hope to achieve success when I was starting with a highly-questionable hunk of preternaturally pink meat and (more often than not) throwing it in a pot of water to boil. Of course I was doomed (doomed!) to fail!
But a couple of years ago, someone cut from, well, exactly the same cloth as me posted a recipe on NPR’s Kitchen Window. It was all about how to cure your own beef brisket and included not a small amount of nose-super-high-in-the-air food-snobbery (which I usually try to suppress, but let’s face it, it’s always there) and a hefty amount of embracing the art of cooking with booze. This, I thought to myself, could be the end of my woes!
So, about a week out from the venerable holiday, I set out to find myself a beef brisket — a plain ol’ one that hadn’t been subjected to salt-peter and god-knows-what other chemicals along with the traditional corned beef spice-packet. And it was nearly bloody impossible! It seems that in March, almost all of the beef briskets get processed into corned beef and it can be extremely difficult to find one au naturale (well, as au naturale as super-market beef gets — oh, and there’s that food-snob I was warning you about!). So don’t be afraid to ask the butcher if there are any squirreled away in the back, and don’t be surprised if the butcher tries to hand you a package of corned beef.
So two years ago, I tried this out for the first time. The beef didn’t get to cure for the full week (see: it’s hard to find a beef brisket a week before St Patrick’s Day), but it was still fully delicious. It was also easier to execute than I had ever imagined. I had a group of friends over for dinner and we polished that sucker off. I’m not gonna lie: it was impressive. I had intended to use the left-overs in Reuben sandwiches, but I wasn’t too upset about it since my lack meant that the party had been a success. Last year, we repeated the recipe (though I started looking for briskets much earlier that year) and since I was pregnant at the time, the booze that was in this recipe (which had of course been de-alcohol-ized by cooking) was the only beer I had (sadness!). That year, though, the left-overs were plentiful due to fewer guests and more meat and the Reubens flowed (more on that in a later post). This year’s brisket is already curing on March 3rd and I can’t wait to taste it again. So won’t you join me in forgoing creepy pink meat and finding out how easy it can be to make something utterly superior, even if you’ll be too toasty on Irish Car-Bombs to notice.
Damn-Good Corned Beef And Cabbage
Adapted from a recipe from NPR’s Kitchen Window
Make the corned beef a day ahead: it’ll only get tastier. You can re-heat it on the stove or in the oven.
The amount of braising liquid you’ll need (for both the beef and the veg) will vary greatly depending on the size of your braising vessel. Have extra on hand just in case. If you run short of an ingredient, it won’t be the end of the world: this is cooking, not baking.
1 (3 to 4 pound) beef brisket (flat cut or point cut)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in thirds
For the brine:
4 cups water
1/2 cup kosher salt OR 1/4 cup table salt
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 to 2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
Small pinch ground cloves
For the braising liquid:
2-4 12oz bottles stout beer (depending on the size of your braising container)
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole allspice
1/8 teaspoon whole cloves
2 garlic cloves, sliced
For the cabbage and other veg:
1 head cabbage, cut into eight wedges
8 medium waxy potatoes (like red or Yukon gold — not russets), cut into bite-size pieces
8 carrots, cut into bite-size pieces
2 leeks, cleaned, white and light green parts only, sliced (optional)
1 cup beef or chicken broth
1 cup flavorful lager or ale (I favor Smithwick’s)
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
Brine the brisket: combine brine ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil, then set aside to cool. In a 2-gallon sealable plastic or plastic roasting/slow cooking bag, place the brisket, the brine (that you have mixed together) and the two garlic cloves. Make sure all the meat is covered by the brine (cut the brisket in pieces, if necessary). Press out as much air as possible, seal tightly, then place in a pot and refrigerate for about a week, turning daily.
Prepare the corned beef: remove brisket from brine and discard brine. Rinse meat thoroughly, then place in a Dutch oven or other large pot. Pour beer over meat so it’s 2/3 to 3/4 of the way up the sides of the meat. Drink leftover beer. If none is left, open another. (You can make the beef a day ahead and re-heat it on the stove-top or in the oven.)
Add peppercorns, mustard seed, allspice, cloves and garlic. Bring to a low boil, skimming off any foam. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook, tightly covered, for about 2 hours, turning halfway through the cooking time.
Make the veg: start this process at the same time you start cooking the meat (unless you’ve cooked the meat the previous day). Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place cabbage in single layer in large baking dish or roasting pan. Scatter potatoes, carrots and leek, if using. Pour broth, beer and oil over all, so that there is about 1/2-inch of liquid at the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper and cover the pan tightly with foil. There is still some beer left: drink that, too. This is the best dinner ever.
Braise vegetables in oven until cabbage is fully tender, about 2 hours, turning cabbage wedges halfway through cooking time and adding water, broth or beer if it’s getting dry.
Once the beef is cooked (or re-warmed), let it rest for 10-15 minutes. Slice thinly across the grain and serve with a spicy stone-ground mustard, if desired along with the braised vegetables.