Do you make the traditional corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day? If so, start now if you'd like to have the best corned beef you have ever tasted. It should be ready just in time for the "wearin' o' the green." And if you haven't an Irish bone in your body, you can still enjoy some damn fine comfort food.
"Corning" is merely a salt curing process. The name originated in the British Isles, where the coarse salt used resembled barley "corn." Added spices helped prevent spoilage as well as contributing flavor.
To corn beef at home, you need only to remember this simple ratio: one ounce of kosher salt for each pound of beef. Place the beef in a large zip-closure bag and sprinkle it with the salt and your preferred spice mixture. Close the bag, and place it in the refrigerator.
Each day, turn the beef, and massage it through the bag, pressing the spices into the meat. After a couple of days, the bag will accumulate a small amount of liquid. This indicates the cure has begun. For the first week, turn and massage the bag every day. Thereafter, continue to do so occasionally. After two to three weeks, the beef will be ready to use, or you can leave it in the bag in the refrigerator for up to six months. You can also cut off a portion of the cured beef and return the remainder to the bag.
The best cuts for corning are the ones comprised of a single muscle, with very little fat and no connective tissue. While brisket is the traditional cut used, chuck eye, top round, and eye of round roasts make delicious corned beef.
You can purchase a commercial pickling spice mix, or make your own. For two pounds of meat, I suggest a teaspoon each of yellow and brown mustard seeds, a half teaspoon of black peppercorns, a half teaspoon of whole allspice, and two bay leaves, crumbled. Crack the peppercorns and allspice in a mortar, or place them in a plastic bag and crush with a heavy skillet. Mix them with the other spices and the salt before sprinkling on the beef.
When you are ready to cook the beef, remove it from the cure and rinse it well. Cover with water, using a quart per pound of meat, and add half a medium onion, chopped, per pound of beef. Bring to a boil, adjust the heat, and simmer gently for two hours or until the meat is meltingly tender. Add vegetables to the pot for the last half hour of cooking.