Corned Beef and Cabbage Update

The pressure is on.  My Irish American fella signed us up to host a New England boiled dinner for some friends for St. Patrick’s day. Last week I put a beautiful grass fed brisket into brine. Five days later, we did a test run. “So does it taste like what you grew up with?” I asked. “No,” He replied. “It has too much flavor!”When it comes to corned beef and cabbage, the cooking part is pretty standard. You simmer the corned beef in water or stock until it’s tender, then you cook the cabbage and other vegetables in the cooking liquid.  Much of the flavor will already be pre-determined by how the meat was corned, or cured.

There’s nothing wrong with using already corned beef.  But there’s nothing great about it either. Most come with a package of pickling spice to add to the cooking liquid, and I think D. described the flavor best. Salty. You can certainly doctor up the flavor by using plenty of water, adding a little brown sugar to mellow the salt, and amping up the spices.

Still, if you plan ahead, it is worth curing your own brisket. To acheive this, you have two options, a dry cure or a brine (a.k.a. wet cure).

Dry curing is easiest. This recipe adapted from the America’s test kitchen has instructions for both dry curing and cooking: Dry Cured Corned Beef.  It has a pretty standard flavor, most of us are used to.

Brining takes more effort and more room in your fridge, but is more reliable. This brine recipe has a slightly sweet, mellow and aromatic flavor: Home Brined Corned Beef.  The source recipe directed us to add pickling spice to the cooking liquid as well, but D. and I found it overpowering (“Too much flavor!”) and unnecessary.

Regardless of whether you choose pre-cured with flavor packet, or home cured, we suggest the following recipe for cooking.

New England Boiled Dinner

INGREDIENTS, for 6-8 servings

1 5-6 lb. Home Brined Corned Beef Brisket

4 liters (9 cups) water

1 large spanish onion

2 bay leaves

4 cloves

1 Tbsp. (5g) black peppercorns

1 Tbsp. (5g) coriander

1 Tbsp. (5g) whole mustard seed

1 large head of cabbage, about 2 lbs, cut into 8 wedges

2 lbs. baby red or yukon gold potatoes

2 lbs. medium carrots, peeled and cut into thirds


1. Remove the corned beef from the brine and rinse well under cold water.

2.  Place the meat in an 8 quart stockpot and cover with 4 liters water.  Add the onion, bay leaves, and spices to the pot and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 3 hours or until the beef is fork tender.

3.  Remove the meat from the stock pot and keep it in about 2 cups of cooking liquid so it doesn’t dry out. Keep warm in a 200 degree oven or let rest at room temperature while you cook the vegetables in the remaining cooking liquid.

4.  For best results, cook carrots first, then the cabbage, then the potatoes.

5.  Slice the corned beef thinly across the grain and arrange on a platter with the vegetables.  Serve with spicy mustard, pickles, and/or relish.

Tips and Ideas:  

Not sure if your brisket is fully brined? If your brisket is very thick, it may take longer than 5 days to cure. Better to check before you discard your brine. Cut your brisket in half and slice off a thin sample from the middle and cook the piece through Pink salt makes the meat turn pink when it’s cooked, so any uncured portion will appear as a sliver of grey in the center.  If that happens, return the brisket to the brine and let it cure for 8-12 more hours before checking again.

For a low carb option try tender sweet baby turnips or daikon radish instead of potatoes.

Home Brined Corned Beef Brisket

Note: This post and recipe were revised 3/11/2014.

Got brisket?  Great! Then you still have time to brine your own corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day. Why would you want to brine your own corned beef? Well, one reason might be that you can leave out the nasty nitrates or preservatives.  Another reason is you would have better control over the flavor.  Or maybe you have some beautiful grass fed brisket to use.

I made my own corned beef for the first time in 2009, using a dry cure recipe from America’s Test Kitchen (Dry Cured Corned Beef and Cabbage).  Since then I’ve made a lot of corned beef for the restaurant. Our corned beef hash was such a favorite, there was an uproar when we tried to take it off the menu. Nowadays I prefer to use a brine. We found submerging the meat completely in liquid typically yields more consistent results than a dry cure. The brine I like to use for corned beef is a hybrid between Michael Rhulman’s corned beef and pastrami recipes.

Michael Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie is currently the best guide I’ve come across for all things cured and brined, and a great place to start for anyone interested the craft.  I’ve used his recipes to make bacon, hams, pates, duck breast prosciutto, corned beef and pastrami.  I will warn you that his brines tend to be on the salty side.  For example, his corned beef recipe calls for 450g of salt per 4 liters of water. If you are sensitive to salt, you may want to reduce the salt to 350g, but I wouldn’t use less than that. Remember, the craft of charcuterie was meant for food preservation, so using a less concentrated brine may improve the flavor, but may also shorten the product’s shelf life. Pink salt is what keeps the corned beef rosy red when it’s cooked and gives it that ham-like cured flavor.  It also acts as a preservative and helps to extend shelf life, so if you choose to omit it, I would suggest using the full 450g of kosher salt.

The recipe also calls for pickling spice.  You can use store bought, but if you love corned beef and pastrami as much as I do, I suggest making your own mix. By making your own, and only what you need for one recipe, you can experiment and adjust the mix to suit your taste. I also like any excuse to go spice shopping, especially at Kalustyans. A quick search through different cookbooks and the internet revealed several different recipes for pickling spice. They all start with equal parts mustard seed and coriander seed. Some contain an equal addition of whole black peppercorn, and all the recipes contain varying amounts of crushed red pepper or dried chiles, allspice, mace, cinnamon, bay leaves, cloves, and ginger. With whole spices, you will also get more accurate measurements by weighing them out. The mix included below is a good starting point.

Lastly, it is also important to note that the recipe calls for a “flat cut”, or” first cut” brisket.  The “point” or “fat end” cut is thicker, has a lot more fat and connective tissue, and would need over a week in the brine.

corned beef pot

Homemade Corned Beef Brine

INGREDIENTS, for a 5-6 lb. flat cut beef brisket:

4 liters  water (about 9 cups)
350-450g  kosher salt
100g  sugar
75g  brown sugar
25g  pink salt (optional)
3  cloves garlic, sliced
20g  pickling spice (see below)
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves

Pickling Spice Mix, yields a little more than needed for one brisket:
5g  coriander seed
5g  mustard seed
5g  black peppercorn
3g  crushed red pepper, or dried chile
3g  allspice berries
2g  mace blades
2g  cinnamon stick, about 1/2 a stick, broken
2g  dried ginger
1g  whole cloves
6  bay leaves

1.  Combine all the ingredients in a 4 to 6 quart non-reactive (stainless steel or enameled) stockpot.

2.  Bring the mixture to a boil, and turn off immediately. It’s important not to let the water evaporate or your brine may become too strong.

3.  Cool the brine completely, preferably in an ice bath. If you cool it in your refrigerator, divide the brine into smaller containers so they cool more quickly.

4.  When the brine is completely cold (41°F), it is ready to use.  You can brine your brisket one of two ways:

Method #1:  In a container large enough to fit both the liquid and the brisket.  If necessary, cut the brisket in half.  Using a fork or metal skewer, evenly pierce the brisket 30-40 times on each side, submerge it in the brine, and weigh it down with a plate.  Brine, refrigerated for 5 days.

Method #2 (preferred): I find the best way to brine anything is in a gallon sized ziploc freezer bag. Cut the brisket in half, pierce 30-40 times on each side and place each half in one bag. Fill each bag with enough cold brine to completely cover the brisket.  Squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible, seal, and refrigerate.  The trick to getting all the air out of the bags is to submerge most of the bag in water.  The water pressure pushes the air out so you don’t have to, and frees up your hands to seal the bag. Place the bags are in a leakproof container, just in case. Brine, refrigerated for 5 days.

brine bag diagram

There. Done. Join us next for some good old Corned Beef and Cabbage.


Change is Good

This is my mantra of the moment. In the last two years I have experienced three of what psychologists deem to be the most stressful life changes.

2012, new relationship (after 15 years)

2013, new home (after 9 years)

2014, new job (soon, after 6 years) plus new home again

Interspersed among those were some pretty hairy events were easily a close fourth, fifth, and sixth.  At some point along the way, I realized that I had been in survival mode for so long it had become my new normal.  I was simply reacting to things that were happening to me, and became a pro at just dealing with them. What? What just happened? OK, yeah, here’s what we’re going to do about it.  

At times like these, I especially value my day to day rituals.  For me it can be as simple making a pot of morning coffee or walking my dog.  It’s a daily time out that allows us to embrace the unpredictable. Perhaps it’s why in this hectic life, so many of us are drawn to cooking. It requires us to get out of our heads, stay in the moment, and not obsess over what was or what might be.

But change also fosters growth, and over the past two years I’ve learned the value of making deliberate choices instead of letting unexpected events force my hand. I have chosen to be in a healthy relationship, I have chosen to move to an apartment in a neighborhood I like, and I am choosing to seek not just a job but one that would be a good next step in my career.

So I spent all of last week moving yet again, this time to Manhattan.  This is it kids, I’ve slowly worked my way west from Queens, to Brooklyn, to the borough that is arguably the internationally recognized metropolitan center of New York City.  I discarded a lot more stuff in this move, but I still have my dog, my cookbooks, my favorite knives, tools, pots and pans to make it feel like home.  And I still make a pot of coffee every morning, and walk my dog three times a day.  As with most Manhattan apartments, the small kitchen is going to be challenging, but hey, I can deal.

Do you have any rituals and routines that help you stay grounded? Maybe instead it’s an object, like a favorite book, or a favorite place you always return to?  I would love to hear about them.

See how others have overcome adversity.

Sunday Supper: Soy Braised Short Ribs

With the chill of winter still in the air, we love a good braised Sunday supper.  This recipe is a variation on Chinese style red cooked pork, using boneless beef short ribs.  Slow cooking in the oven, this one-pot meal fills the apartment with the aroma of slow simmered beef, cinnamon, anise, and five spice.  Buy well marbled short ribs for the best flavor.  For a low carb option, omit the carrots and substitute diced pumpkin, red radishes, zucchini, or summer squash.  I’ll bet okra would be delicious too.

Soy Braised Short Ribs  adapted from Martin Yan’s China, Red Cooked Pork.

INGREDIENTS, for 4-6 servings

2 lbs.  boneless short ribs


1/2 tsp. five spice powder
1/4 c.  soy sauce or tamari
2 Tbsp.  hoisin sauce


2 Tbsp. neutral oil
1 small onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
6 slices ginger, each about the size of a quarter
1 to 2 Tbsp. light brown sugar
2 Tbsp. rice wine, dry sherry, or medium bodied red wine
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
1 thai chile or jalapeno, sliced in half lengthwise


1-1/2 cup  carrot, large dice
1-1/2 cup  daikon radish or white turnips, dice
1 cup  pearl onions, peeled
1/4 cup scallions, sliced


1.  Marinate the short ribs.  In a medium bowl, mix the five spice powder, soy sauce and hoisin sauce.  Coat the short ribs in the marinade, and leave covered, in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.

2.  To braise the short ribs, pre-heat oven to 350°F.  Heat oil in a dutch oven or deep oven proof saucepan over medium-high heat.  Pat the short ribs dry, reserving the marinade.  Place the short ribs in the pan and them brown on all sides.  Remove the short ribs from the pan and set aside.  Add the onion, garlic, and ginger to the pan and saute until the onions begin to soften and brown.  Add the brown sugar and wine or sherry, scraping up any brown bits from the pan with a wooden spoon.  Reduce the wine/sherry until there is just about a tablespoon left.

3.  Return the short ribs to the pan, and add the reserved marinade, the star anise, cinnamon stick, chicken stock and chile.  Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pot and transfer to the oven on the middle rack.

4.  Cook until the short ribs are tender, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  When the short ribs are almost ready, add the carrot, daikon, and pearl onion to the pot.  Cover and cook 30 minutes more until the vegetables are cooked through.

5.  Garnish with freshly chopped scallions and serve.

Crispy Suckling Pig Shoulder Ham

We are slowly making our way through the suckling pig.  On Friday I pulled out one of the shoulders to cure. Thyme, sage, and juniper are traditional additions to the brine, but for a change of pace I used coriander, orange zest, and a little cumin instead.

Sunday morning, I washed the shoulder, deboned it, and pan roasted a 1 lb. piece for breakfast. You might remember from the Cracklings! post, that this has become our favorite cooking method for small portions of suckling pig.  There was a pretty thick layer of fat, so I let it render, skin-side down in the saute pan over medium-low heat until it got really brown and crisp. Then I flipped it and popped it in the oven at 400°F to finish cooking (about 8-12 minutes).  The ham was salty, sweet and tender, and had a nice citrus finish from the orange zest and coriander. Plus, I’m totally addicted to that crispy skin! Since D. and I have been on Atkins we’ve gotten pretty tired of eggs, so we had the ham with a little dijon mustard and roasted brussels sprouts instead.

Basic Brine For Home Cured Meat

Here is a basic brine for curing just about anything from a ham, to turkey breast, or beef brisket. Curing time will vary according to the the type of meat, its weight, and thickness.  A 4-5 lb. pork loin will take 48-60 hours.  A 3 lb. turkey breast may only take 36-48 hours.  A beef brisket will take longer, 5-7 days. If the meat cures too long, there is a chance it will be too salty.  But if the cure does not have enough time to penetrate to the center of the roast, you will notice discoloration in the middle, but only after you have cooked it. This is because the sodium nitrate in the curing salt turns the meat pink when it is cooked.  Any uncured parts will turn white or grey, and will not be fully preserved.  Curing salt is inexpensive and available from a number of sources online, including  If you know a friendly artisanal butcher who makes house cured meats and pates, he will probably be happy to sell you some and maybe even give you some pointers.

INGREDIENTS, for a 4-5 lb. roast.  Adjust accordingly:

4 quarts water
1-1/2 cups kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
8 tsp. curing salt (DC cure #1 or equivalent)

Flavoring elements as desired:

For pork or turkey, you might include 3-4 cloves of smashed garlic, a bunch of thyme, sage, and/ or rosemary, a Tbsp. of juniper berries or black peppercorns.

For brisket, you might add coriander seed, mustard seed, bay leaves, and crushed red pepper.  I also like to add an onion, garlic, and a cinnamon stick.


Combine water and all the remaining ingredients in a stainless steel saucepan or stock pot.

Bring the mixture to a boil and turn off immediately to prevent the water from evaporating.

Cool the brine completely in an ice bath, or by dividing the liquid into smaller containers in the refigerator.

If you will be brining a large roast like pork shoulder or brisket, use a metal skewer or a knife with a long narrow blade, such as a boning knife, to stab the meat in several places. This is to help the brine enter the thickest parts.

Once the liquid has cooled to 41°F, submerge the pork completely in the liquid, using a plate or other object to weigh it down.  Cure, refrigerated for 48-60 hours.

After the meat is cured, make sure to rinse it to remove any excess salt before cooking.

Cook the roast as desired.

Instead of cooking the entire roast at once, you might cut it up and freeze smaller portions, tightly wrapped until you need them.

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