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Making corned beef.

The world has certainly changed since I was a kid growing up out of the Depression years and into WW II. Bologna was 5 [cents] a pound. Corned beef, ham hocks, beef briskets, tongues and chipped beef were considered to be "cheap" budget-stretchers because they were not "desirable" cuts of meats. Now, for most part, they are expensive specialty meats!

Home-made corned beef a doubt, the easiest "specialty" meat a person can make. In fact, it's so simple that it belongs in the class of "no-brainers."

"Corned" beef was developed to preserve beef, in a palatable state, without refrigeration. Simply stated, the process is called "pickling." The meat is cured in a salt and nitrite (Prague Powder #1 available from Norseman) solution with spices. The unique flavor is obtained from the nitrite cure. If you haven't read my earlier articles about cures, they are essential to retard spoilage and botulism during the curing of hams, bacons, corned beef, etc. The fact is, that these cures do not remain in high concentrations in the meat. When "doing their thing," they break down the nitrous oxide gas which is a harmless component of air. The residual nitrite content of cured meats will most often be less than 50-100 ppm. The natural nitrate content of celery is about 1700 ppm! 'Nuff said about "nitrate paranoia."

On a few occasions I have had a recipe click on the first attempt, whereas I once worked for over a year to develop a personal recipe for Polish (kielbasa) sausage. The recipe below is a combination of three recipes that I combined and interpolated into one... and it was perfect on the very first attempt! In the Kansas City area, the "Boyles" brand corned beef stands head and shoulders above the others. My recipe isn't any better than theirs, but it dam sure equals the Boyles quality. Friends and family cannot tell the difference.

Traditionally, the beef brisket is the cut of meat selected for corning. I don't know for sure, but I suspect that it originated because of the Jewish kosher custom of consuming only the front quarters of the beef... and if barbecue wasn't part of your cultural heritage, what else could you do with a brisket? Actually, any cut of beef will make good corned beef--the round, chuck, tongue or brisket.

The following recipe will cure approximately six lbs. of beef. As you can see, it relies quite heavily on the basic pickling spice mixture. Because of its bulky nature, it can get quite pricey when you purchase the little cans in the supermarket. Pickling spices and whole black peppercorns are available in 1/2 pound bulk packages from Norseman at $7.00 per package (plus UPS). For 6 lbs. of beef or tongue:

8 cups water

1 cup salt

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons (rounded) pickling spice

4 teaspoons Prague Powder #1

2 cloves garlic, crushed (or 2 tablespoons garlic powder, more or less, to taste)

1 teaspoon (rounded) whole peppercorns

2 bay leaves (large)

Add spices and salt to the water and bring to a boil. Allow to cool sufficiently to prevent scalding the meat. You may place the meat in an enamel container or a large zip-lock bag. (I prefer the zip-lock bag.)

Submerge the meat in the mixture and refrigerate for 3-7 days. On large thick cuts, I use a sterile hypodermic syringe and inject the meat with the solution in a one-inch checkerboard pattern to insure quick exposure to the cure, and soak for a week. If curing in an enameled pan, turn the meat daily and weight it down with a plate or heavy coffee mug in order to keep it submerged. I prefer the zip-lock bag because one can squeeze out almost all of the air before closure to insure total coverage. Put the bag in a large pan in case the bag develops a small leak and turn daily.

After 3-7 days, the solution will develop a brownish-grey "muddy" appearance and the meat will appear somewhat grey. Don't be alarmed. The muddy solution is caused by the extraction of soluble components from the meat by the salt/cure. (Commercially, they dump this mix and repack in fresh pickling solution which gives it that nice "clear" look. Upon cooking, the meat will develop its familiar attractive red color which is caused by the nitrite cure. You can leave the meat in the pickling solution until you are ready to cook it.

Some commercial corned beef products are packed in the "cooking solution" containing the spice blend to be cooked with the meat. To duplicate this spice blend, add 1 heaping tablespoon pickling spice, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, and two bay leaves If you want more garlic, add it to taste.

Norseman Sausage Supplies, 3492 Stafford Rd., Wellsville KS 66092
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Author:Salsbury, D.L.
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 1993
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