Monday, 16 December 2013

How to make corned beef (and you really, really should)

Best corned beef sandwich EVER...
Corned beef and pickle sandwiches were an absolute staple in my household when I was growing up.  OK you risked bleeding to death every time you tried to open a can (or at least I did) and it looked kind of weird (a friend of mine once described it as "nipple meat" which put me off for a little while) but still, delicious.  I don't know why I stopped eating it but I certainly can't remember the last time I bought it.

D, for reasons best known to himself, had long cherished the notion of making some corned beef at home.  It's odd - it is not something that it would EVER  have occurred to me to cook, primarily because it is one of those things, liked baked beans, that only exists as a canned foodstuff in my head.  The idea of taking a piece of beef and....well, corning it seemed odd. 

And what does corning refer to, I hear you ask?  Well, thanks to my friend and yours, Wikipedia, I can tell you that it is a reference to the coarse, granular salt used to cure the beef.  There doesn't appear to be a particular difference between "salt beef" and "corned beef" although pastrami, another cured beef product, is apparently smoked rather than boiled to give it a particular flavour.  So there you go. 

Anyway, it turns out that corned beef is absolutely delicious.  It tastes like the canned stuff but somehow amplified...meatier, spicier...and far more tender.  It's so good that we just ate corned beef sandwiches for tea on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with nothing more than slices of meat, mustard and dill pickles, and I am rather sad that I won't be having them again tonight.  Later this week we intend to make corned beef hash - I'll report back if it is good. 

Incidentally, in terms of points, I've been reckoning on 7 pro points per 100g cooked weight based on nutritional information I've found online.  50g is more than enough for a decent sandwich filling which works out at 3pps. 


Pickling spices:
1 tbsp allspice berries
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp dried chilli flakes
1 tbsp whole cloves
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
9 cardamom pods
6 dried bay leaves, crumbled
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 stick cinnamon
1 1/2 star anise

4.5 litres of water
2 handfuls of sea salt (we always buy Maldon)
5 tsp pink curing salt
3 tbsp pickling spices
110g brown sugar

3kg piece of brisket
1 tbsp pickling spices

Some notes first of all.

Yes, 3kg of brisket is a lot.  Ours cooked down to about 1.7kg. This is still a lot.  The beef will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge or can be portioned up and frozen.  It is delicious, and brisket is not a terribly expensive cut so I recommend making a load but, of course, I would assume this recipe would work perfectly well scaled down.

The pink curing salt is available online.  We bought it here.  The original recipe does state that you can make the beef without - the main difference will be to the colour which will be less vividly pink.

You need a BIG container for such a big piece of meat.  We used a large cake carrier Lock and Lock which looked huge - but could only get about half of the specified amount of liquid in even so.  The beef still worked beautifully but D did turn it every day to ensure that it all sides were getting well brined.

So here's what you do:

Toast the allspice, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, chilli flakes, cloves, peppercorns and cardamom pods in a dry pan over a high heat until the mustard seeds start to pop and the spices are fragrant.  Transfer to a pestle and mortar and lightly crush.  Stir in the ginger and the bay.

Now add 3 tbsp of the spice mix plus the cinnamon and star anise to the water in a large pan along with the sugar and salt.  Bring to the boil then remove from the heat.  Allow the liquid to come to room temperature and then put it in the fridge to chill.

Place your beefy behemoth in your chosen container and pour over the brine.  Cover and keep somewhere cool - the fridge or, in this weather, the garage.  Brine for at least 5 days - ours was in their for 10.  Turn the meat regularly.

When you're ready to cook, remove the meat from the brine and rinse with cold water.  We cooked ours in a slow cooker which was perfect for this type of joint.  We added a small quantity of water to the pot with a tablespoon of the pickling spice and then sat in the meat and gave it 1 hour on high followed by 9 hours on low heat at which point it was falling apart and the house smelled like a deli. Wrap in foil and rest for at least an hour before serving.


  1. Wow - that looks and sounds amazing!

    If you can't manage it all, do let me know and I'll pop up and take it off your hands! I love corned beef.

    And thanks for the email.


  2. I adore corned beef, we're having corned beef hash for dinner tonight. I may attempt to make this in the new year if time permits, it sounds amazing!! x

  3. It is amazing! I am so impressed with...well, us :-)

    Peri - I'm fairly sure we will scoff it all (we're both rather greedy) but if there is any left when next I see you I'll bring a care package (maybe swap you for some mince pies...?)

    Linz - we're planning on using St Delia's recipe for hash later this week and I am very excited. It's such a yummy dish!