Ever wanted to make your own corned beef? No, not take a wet, reddish lump out of meat from a vacuum-packed package — actually “corn” the beef yourself? This is less difficult than it may sound. Corned beef, the traditional protein boiled with potatoes and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, is just a wet-brined brisket. This tough, generally inexpensive cut becomes flaky and flavorful from sitting in spices a few days before. We spoke with Jessica Applestone, co-owner of Fleisher’s Meats in Park Slope to take us through the steps. She and her husband and co-owner Josh keep a copy of River Cottage Meat Book handy like the Irish might a volume of Yeats. They’ve been making an adaptation of a recipe in it for a classic, pickly-tasting corned beef for years. Here’s how it goes:
1) Determine which part of the brisket you prefer. There’s the leaner “first” or “flat cut,” which Jewish old ladies tend to prefer, and the “second cut,” which is where the brisket becomes more round, large, and fatty. “Remember that briskets are pectoral muscles so if you look at the top of your boobs you’ll see they’re flatter and the breast or pecs are fattier (of course!) and fuller,” says Jessica. And because fat means flavor, she recommends the second cut.
2) For a 4-6 lb piece of brisket, boil 5 quarts of water with 1 lb white sugar, 3 lbs sea salt, and a teaspoon each of black peppercorns, juniper berries, cloves, bay leaves and fresh thyme or dill. You can play around with the seasonings and add something else, like chili flakes for a hint of spice. Completely dissolve the sugar and salt in the brine and let cool.
3) Place meat in the brine in a food-safe bag and refrigerate for 3-5 days. Turn the bag around now and then to make sure all parts of the beef get soaked in the liquid.
4) Remove meat from brine and rinse. Boil in a pot with a head of cabbage and potatoes for at least 3 hours, until tender.
Use leftovers for the rest of the week to make rye bread sandwiches or potato hash. Or to top a bowl of pho, as Jessica suggests.