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I Made It!

March 17, 2012

Well, it’s that time of year again; as usual for St. Patrick’s Day I made

Corned Beef Cabbage

Corned beef and cabbage — and other root vegetables. The big difference this year is that I remembered early enough in advance to corn my own brisket. “Corning” is a process of salt-curing that gets its name from the grains or “corns” of salt used. The process isn’t difficult, but it takes some time.

First get a beef brisket; four to six pounds is good, and with the fat trimmed back to about a quarter inch. If you’re on good terms with your butcher you can try to get a point-cut brisket, but the flat-cut is leaner and should be fine. Then mix up half a cup of kosher salt with a tablespoon of cracked black peppercorns, a little less than a tablespoon of ground allspice, a tablespoon of dried thyme, half a tablespoon of paprika, and two crumbled up bay leaves. Stab the brisket about thirty times on each side with a metal skewer, then rub it thoroughly with the salt mixture, getting as much to stick as possible. Put the brisket into a two-gallon freezer bag — two layers wouldn’t be a bad idea — and sandwich it between two jelly roll pans in the refrigerator. Weight it down with bricks or cans or something, and turn it over every day for five to ten days. Over time the brisket will absorb the salt and give off some of its liquid (which the bags should catch).

When you’re ready to cook it, get six to eight pounds of vegetables ready, selected from these following two lists. Each has a method of preparation, which you can do later while the brisket is cooking.

    List A

  • Carrots; peel and halve crosswise, halve thin end lengthwise and quarter thick end lengthwise
  • Small rutabagas; peel and halve crosswise, cut each half into six pieces
  • Medium white turnips; peel and quarter
  • Small new potatoes; scrub and leave whole
  • Boiling onions; peel and leave whole
    List B

  • Green cabbage; remove outer leaves, leave core in, cut into eight sections
  • Parsnips; peel and halve crosswise, halve thin end lengthwise and quarter thick end lengthwise
  • Brussels sprouts; remove blemished leaves and leave whole

The cabbage is all but obligatory, but the sprouts can substitute. I’d suggest both some potatoes and some onions; the potatoes should be about the size of a toddler’s fist, and that’s about as big as any of the chunks should be, while the boiling onions are about as small as they should be so everything will cook more or less evenly. The directions above should get you in the ballpark, but if — like me — you can only find monster mutant vegetables feel free to improvise to get the results about the right size.

Anyway, take the corned brisket out of the fridge and rinse it thoroughly. Put it into a large Dutch oven or stockpot with enough water to cover by an inch or so and bring to a boil. It’s fine if you have to fold the brisket over to get it to fit, since it will shrink up somewhat almost immediately, and you’re just boiling it anyway. Still, the pot should hold at least a quart for each pound of vegetables or you’re going to have a hard time getting them all in later; I managed to fit eight pounds into a six-quart oblong dutch oven, but it wasn’t easy.

Prepare the vegetables while the brisket boils for about two or three hours, until a skewer inserted into the thickest part of the meat slips out easily. Then remove the meat to a baking dish, ladle about a cup of the broth over it to moisten, cover with foil, and stick it in a 200ºF oven to keep warm. Put the prepared vegetables from list A into the pot with the rest of the broth and bring it back up to a boil. Cover and simmer for about ten minutes until these harder vegetables start to soften. Then add the vegetables from list B into the pot, bring back to a boil, cover, and simmer another ten to fifteen minutes.

Slice the meat across the grain about a quarter-inch thick, remove the vegetables from the broth to a serving dish, and save some of the broth to moisten them. Serve with horseradish and grainy brown mustard.

It should also reheat very well, especially if the plates are moistened with the broth before reheating.

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