On Corning Beefs

Neither being Catholic nor a heavy drinker, I used to wonder why I liked St Patrick’s day so much. Well, you’ll find no answers here about that!  But I do like corned beef…

Corn that beef!

Human animals love some corned beef. Super useful for keeping meat for a long time, salt curing has been around as long as we’ve been staying in one place for extended periods, ~10,000 years.  Everyone does it, but corned beef is especially popular in Irish, English, Jewish and Filipino cooking.  Ireland exported a lot of it during the Potato Famine, but couldn’t afford to buy it. Partially because the English were dicks. But what the heck is corning anyway?

One might think its related to pepper corns or, if you’re especially foolish, actual corn. But no, it’s actually “corns” of salts used to cure the meat for which it gets the name. Apparently everyone who spoke Old English just called little grains of everything “corns” – “Like corns of sand through the hourglass…” they’d say. However, because impotence isn’t fun, you’ll find no saltpeter in this recipe, just plenty of sodium chloride!

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Salt curing was the way to save meat until the 19th century. It makes the meat less likely to be a bed for bacteria because it pulls water out of cell walls. And the meat, too, which then picks up all that flavor from the salt mixture you make.  Combine that with smoke and you have some tasty items like bacon.  If you smoke a corned brisket you get pastrami. I know.  I just blew your mind. 

This year I decided to try something new.  I typically cure a brisket as tradition demands but it can be difficult to find a point cut. The flat cut is what you typically find.  Its tastier in my opinion, but the meat department generally looks at you with either irritation or simply doesn’t know. So it was time for a change.  Keep things fresh. Over the past 5 years or so, I’ve seen more and more of the Tri-tip available. Its very tasty, easy to roast, but I wasn’t sure how it would hold up to salt curing. Being a researcher by temperament, I found that its not uncommon. So off to living wage paying Costco I went.

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Did you know that a line forms at Costco just before 10 am? Just shy of 6 pounds, combined with the other foods I was preparing, this should feed about 12 – 14 people. They had most of the fat cap removed, which I was concerned with, because fat is flavor, but I know this is a pretty tasty cut, I hope it holds up. Poke a bunch of holes in that sucka with a fork!

Pressing forward, I combined the corning ingredients: allspice, bay, thyme, paprika, cracked pepper corns and a bunch of kosher salt.

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Now we blend that and rub it over both the tri-tips, all over, before placing it in a huge plastic bag. You could use plastic wrap, or another air tight vessel, but you want the salt and the accumulating juices to stay in contact with the meat, so wrapped is better.

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I suck the air out.  With my mouth. I can’t think of a better way.

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Now its time to cook with chemistry, time and pressure. Place it in your refrigerator, place a flat surface above and some weight on top. And wait, for at least 5 days, 7 is better. Flip it every 24 hours, replacing the weight on top.

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Traditionally, this was kept in barrels, even on ships for quite awhile. I don’t recommend this. But in case the world falls into anarchy and we’re living without electricity, your welcome.

Now we wait. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, cracked
  • 3/4 tablespoon ground allspice
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1 beef  4 to 6 pounds

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Mix salt and seasonings in small bowl.
  2. Spear brisket about thirty times per side with meat fork or metal skewer. Rub each side evenly with salt mixture. Refrigerate 5 to 7 days with a weight on top, turning once a day.

     

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