Questions about Cooking Corned Beef
I'm thinking about cooking corned beef to go with potato latkes. I've never made one before and have a few questions:
1. Is it worth it to make your own when you live near a really good deli?
2. Does brand/source matter or is the final product more a result of the preparation? If the brand matters, what brand would you recommend?
3. Any other tips would be greatly appreciated.
1. Although deli corned beef and home cooked corned beef have identical ingredients (for the most part), they're two very different animals. Deli corned beef uses a lean beef that ends up pretty tough, but they compensate for this by slicing it thin. The home chef, it they know what they're doing, looks for a far fattier/better marbled cut of meat. They also tend to cook it a lot longer. More fat/longer cooking translates into a far more succulent experience.
2. Brand does matter- to an extent. Recipes tend to vary, not by a great deal, but there are some ingredients (such as cloves or allspice) where a heavy hand can impact the end product adversely. Brands have a tendency to trim differently as well. Marbling (intramuscular fat) is what makes corned beef great, but a huge fat cap is not that ideal. It's not the end of the world (if you braise the meat long enough, the fat will usually scrape right off), but, if you're using the braising liquid, a huge fat cap will usually make it too fatty. I've been noticing that with my cheaper supermarket brand, in recent years, they've been trimming in such a way that it has these tubular veins. I've never noticed a textural difference to the veins when eating the beef, but they look fairly unappetizing.
This may be industry wide by this point, but a few years back, some brands started using enzyme tenderizers. Tenderizers are not necessarily a bad thing, but they start to act strangely when the meat is stored for extended periods.
3. Here are more tips:
'Corned' is just another term for 'salted,' so corned beef is supposed to be relatively salty, but, like most store bought foods, it seems like they're going out of their way to squeeze as much salt into it as humanly possible. I soak my corn beef in cold water for about 2 days, with one change of water in the middle.
Corned beef is one of the most misunderstood food values in the meat department. Most people have no idea how much water they're paying for. It's injected with brine using the same process as bacon, and, like bacon, you lose an unbelievable amount of weight to cooking. With a regular roast, you can lose as little as 20%. With corned beef, though, expect at least 50% loss. In other words, if you're cooking for 4 people and plan on serving 3/4 lb. per person, don't buy 3 lbs., buy 6 (or more).
Corning was invented to preserve meat. One would think that with all the salt in corned beef, one could just grab any old package off the shelf and it would be fresh. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The sell by date is not necessarily a guarantee of freshness either. You want to look for the best date, obviously, but, more importantly, you want to inspect the meat. Is it brightly colored? You want meat that's bright red, not a brownish red. Is there air in the package? The slightest amount of air is the kiss of death for corned beef.
Brisket is one of the more tender stew meats, so it's temping to treat it more like a roast and cook it just until 'done,' but the reality is, though, is that it's stew meat and should really be cooked past done to further break it down. Too much cooking and it can fall apart/become stringy, though, so it takes some practice to find that happy medium. I've been doing it for decades and still can't say I've mastered it completely. I do it in a pressure cooker and follow a fairly precise schedule. It's always superb, but it's not always the best corned beef I've ever had.
Good versus Great
In theory, corned beef is one of the easiest foods to cook. Buy it, simmer the daylights out of it, serve it. In reality, though, it's not that black and white. It's almost impossible to ruin, but there's definitely steps one can take that make the difference between good and earth shattering. You also can't beat the skill set that one acquires from cooking it over and over again for a few years.
In other words, if you're thinking of serving this to guests (and it sounds a bit like you are), I would probably serve something else until you've gotten your feet wet and made this a few times. There's a chance you might get lucky and end up with something wonderful, but, for entertaining, I'd stick to tried and true recipes.
Just for clarity it sake it appears that Scott is speaking about buying in pre-brined Brisket and then cooking it while my post was buying in the raw brisket and then making your own custom brine for it.
I have zero experience using the pre-brined brisket and I just assumed you would be starting from scratch but this point should be clarified. Are you planning on buying a Raw brisket and brining your self or buying the brisket sitting in brine already?
>>>1. Is it worth it to make your own when you live near a really good deli?
Absolutely, I prepare 7-8 corned beef briskets for a jewish congregation near us yearly. And while grand-ma’s might have been better they keep asking me.
2. Does brand/source matter or is the final product more a result of the preparation?
Doesn’t matter unless you are trying to stay strict Kosher. You will usually find three different cuts that you can get flat, point or whole/packer. Flat is the leanest and the least flavorful, point is highly marbled but has a lot of flavor and the whole both of these.
When making Corned beef for sandwiches I use the flat and brine it for at least 10 days. When BBQ a brisket or making Corned beef for a heated entrée I usually get a whole untrimmed brisket, trim to my needs. That’s a lot of meat btw, so if you only need it for a few people you might want to just get the point.
To get that traditional flavor you really need to brine your brisket for 5-10 days, the longer the more flavor it will have. I usually never go less than 7. This is the brine I use.
½ gal water
1 cup kosher salt
¾ cup brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp whole coriander
1 1/2 Tbsp whole mustard seeds
1 1/2 Tbsp whole black peppercorns
2 Tbsp whole allspice
2 Tbsp Juniper berries
8 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
6 bay leaves
(You can add saltpeter if you want to keep the meat red about a Tbsp for every 2 – 2 1/2 lbs)
Heat to a boil and remove from heat, you can dump ice or cold water into but you want to chill it down to 36-38 degrees (leave it in the refrigerator overnight) then place your brisket into it, cut in half in you need to and weight it down with a couple of plates to keep fully submerged. Check it daily, I usually turn the meat and stir the brine, if some has evaporated then just at more water.
When ready to cook remove meat, rinse off put in a pan just large enough to hold it add water to cover. Bring the liquid to a simmer on the stove and then cover your cooking pot with foil or lid place in a 300 oven for 3 hours or until fork tender.
I tried to do that with Pastrami one time, but the bag did not hold up to snuff and fell apart. I must say though that the vacuum/plastic seal was somewhat suspect....possibly being only heat sealed, I cannot recall where, but I had also heard, read or seen the toss in the bag method somewhere in the past, so there must be some validity to the method with original packaging......I would give it a try again with a small corned beef to see if the seal holds up and how tender the meat becomes.
If you have a food sealer, you could repackage the meat and cook it in the bag for sure.
I don’t have a clue. My “guess” would be that he is talking about brining the brisket in a brining bag and then cooking it in it. However, that does not make any sense at all to me, special oven bags are available for cooking turkeys etc but you don’t want to cook in your brining liquid unless his brine is very weak to begin with.
I would highly doubt that Pepin is suggesting to buy a pre-brined brisket and cook it in the bag it came with.
Similar to my recipe, but I haven't used thyme.
About a year ago I started lightly roasting the whole spices then grinding to a coarse powder. I then mix this with with 1/4 of the salt and sugar and rub vigorously into the brisket and marinate for 3 hours before placing into a brine made of the remaining ingredients and then curing as normal.
The final result is far more flavourful and is a novel change from the norm; often provoking a delightful response from a friend trying this version for the first time.
For colour and an added kick I will also prepare a final rub for the corned beef after it has been cooked, cooled and dried, using a mixture of regular paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, Hungarian (hot) paprika, coriander and kosher salt.
Toss in a combination of the above with portions of your choosing then rub into the surface of the brisket covering the whole brisket, and place in a large plastic bag with the air drawn out, so that the bag adheres to the brisket: This could be done by cryovacing if possible, then stored this way in the fridge or freezer until ready to slice.
I usually let set this way for 24 hours in the fridge then slice and cryovac into 1/4 lb packages to be refrigerated for up to a month, or frozen for up to a year.
For me, I always purchase the fattier Brisket point cut, not the first cut given a choice....brand does not matter.
I generally puchase what is known as a *packer* full brisket, which contains both portions. I suggest all you need to do is put it in a pot and bring to a boil to remove the scum.....afterward, add your aromatics and pickling spices and reduce to s simmer for 3.5 to 4 hours covered tightly. Do not remove the lid during this time.......start checking at the 3.5 hour mark to see if it is fork tender. If you are using s smaller piece, you may only need 3 hours. I'll defer to others with experience on that.