Monday, March 17, 2008

Homemade Corned Beef (and other cured things)

An update on the "Great Corned Beef Experiment" and other adventures in preserving: It worked! I spent a lot of time trimming the fat from the brisket. I just didn't think it needed that thick coat of fat, so where possible I left just a very thin layer. After a week of sitting in a bucket of brine in my wine fridge I took out all the pieces, cut them into meal-size portions, and vacuum packed them. I cooked one for my mom, who had never had a corned beef dinner before. For comparison, I also cooked a commercial corned beef. I also sent a piece over to my ex-husband, who has always loved corned beef and knows how to cook it, to get his feedback. Overall conclusions were consistent: richer flavor, better texture, good color. For a twist, I turned one corned beef flat into pastrami. (A flat is the flat half of a whole brisket; the other half has two pieces of meat separated by a thick layer of fat and is called the point. The top piece of meat on the point cut is called the "deckle" and it is much more marbled than the other muscle in the brisket.) I never knew that pastrami was just smoked corned beef with a pepper/coriander crust. That turned out with a flavor about as good as any pastrami I've had, once more much leaner so a healthier choice. The bacon also turned out well, though quite mild in flavor. I am turning part of the belly into pancetta, the non-rolled version. That requires some drying time in addition to the time in the cure. So we'll get to taste that in another week. But it smells really good! With the aforementioned pastrami in a sandwich, we had some of the home-cured sauerkraut. It smelled rather funky when I opened the crock, sort of like sour milk, but I knew that was just the lactic acid concentrating on the cloth on the top of the cabbage. The sauerkraut also turned out quite mild. In fact, I think it would be a great substitute for coleslaw on a pulled pork sandwich. Because it is fresh, the cabbage isn't that beige translucent stuff you get at the market; in fact it still has some of the green color and is quite crisp. Now I can hardly wait for August and cucumber season so I can try curing some kosher pickles. Now, since today is St. Paddy's, I'm making a corned beef for my husband to try. He was out of town for all of these curing chores, but is very happy to be eating the results.

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