Corned Beef Season!

Now that I’m too old to pinch people for not wearing green on St. Patrick’s day, the holiday means only one thing to me: corned beef is on sale.  I’ve paid attention over the past year and, at least in my area, corned beef brisket is only on sale once a year.  Because of the preservative power of the salt brine, corned beef lasts several weeks in the refrigerator.  Plus, you can freeze cooked corned beef for months (for some reason, I don’t think you’re supposed to freeze uncooked corned beef).  So it’s time to stock up.

Corned beef is any cut of beef preserved in a salt brine solution.  Usually the brisket cut is what you find in the grocery store, although I think I’ve seen round cuts, too.  Corned beef briskets are usually available as point cut or flat cut (also known as thick cut and thin cut, respectively).  The point cut is less expensive, but it’s also more fatty than the blade cut.  The point cut is fine for a corned beef and cabbage dish if you don’t mind cutting around the fat, and it works for hash, too, but I find it kind of arduous to separate the meat from the intercalated fat when preparing for hash.  For sliced corned beef for sandwiches, especially cold sandwiches, I would only use the flat cut.  Cold fat isn’t real appetizing.

I have four uses in mind for the five briskets I bought and I’m curious if readers have other ways that they like to use corned beef.  Here are mine:

Corned beef and cabbage
The classic “Irish” St. Patrick’s day meal, though if I’m remembering Alton Brown correctly, the Irish don’t eat corned beef and cabbage.  Either way, I like it.  Preparation couldn’t be simpler: place the corned beef in a pot; cover under a couple of inches of water; add herbs/spices—pickling spices, bay leaf, peppercorns, coriander seeds, allspice, cloves, whatever you want; cover and boil until almost tender, usually about 2-3 hrs, depending on thickness; add big chunks of cabbage, potatoes, carrots, and onions; boil until vegetables are done, usually another 30 minutes.  The broth is salty enough to season the vegetables perfectly.  I like to fish the veggies out of the broth and add a little butter to melt onto them. Slice the rested brisket across the grain and enjoy.  Sometimes we’ll spoon a little mustard/brown sugar glaze over the brisket.

Resist the urge to oven roast the brisket.  I thought it would be a great idea because I always prefer roasted meat, and especially roasted vegetables, to boiled.  But it turns out very salty.  When you do it on the stove top, the boiling water pulls a lot of the salt out of the meat.  If your heart is set on roasting or smoking (see below) I think it’s possible to de-brine the corned beef by soaking for a day or two in a large volume of water in the refrigerator.

Corned Beef Hash
My hash is pretty much just chopped corned beef, potatoes, onions, and peppers browned in a hot skillet.  I’ve seen a lot of hash made with very finely chopped or ground corned beef, but that kind of reminds me of dog food.  I like my hash pretty chunky.  I chop leftover corned beef and potatoes into 1/4 to 1/2 inch chunks, add 1/4 inch diced onions and peppers (red or green bell peppers are great, but I like a little bit of heat from poblanos).  If you don’t have leftover potatoes, you can parboil or parcook some in the microwave until they are mostly done, then chop and season with salt and pepper. I like to leave the skin on.

I’m usually disappointed with the amount of browning when I make hash, even when I have a really hot, heavy skillet.  I think I’ve just had too much food in the pan to get a good browned-to-unbrowned ratio.  So I think this year I’m going to make my hash into patties and cook them two or three at a time in my very hot cast iron skillet with a little vegetable oil or bacon grease.

I like my hash topped with a fried egg with a runny yolk.  I think some fresh fruit on the table would round out a corned beef hash and egg meal nicely.

Reuben Sandwich
Hot sliced corned beef, melted swiss cheese, and sauerkraut on toasted rye bread.  The traditional dressing for the sandwich is Russian, which they don’t sell at the grocery store.  But from what I gather, Russian dressing is pretty much the same thing as Thousand Island.  Or you can make your own.  I think I’ll just add some cucumber relish to my Utah-style “fry sauce” that I usually make for burgers.  Alternatively, brown mustard goes well on a reuben.

The biggest pitfall that I’ve seen with reubens I’ve had at restaurants is soggy bread from undrained sauerkraut.  You have to squeeze that stuff good to get most of the liquid out or it will be gross.  I very much prefer the bagged sauerkraut from the refrigerated section to the canned or bottled stuff.  It’s more crisp and fresh tasting.

I’ve never made pastrami before, but I got a stove top smoker recently and I’m having fun with it.  Pastrami is just seasoned, smoked corned beef.  My plan is to de-brine a flat cut brisket for a couple of days, coat it with cracked peppercorns, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, and maybe garlic paste, and then hickory smoke it over low heat for a few hours on the stove top.  Then I’ll wrap it in aluminum foil and finish it in a 250-degree oven until it’s tender.  I can rig my smoker to trap a lot of moisture, so I’m pretty sure the brisket won’t dry out.

I have one or two briskets that aren’t already designated for the above applications.  So, what else is there to do with corned beef?


15 thoughts on “Corned Beef Season!

  1. Great post! Thanks for this. I’m thinking of going and getting some corned beef brisket now. I always loved it when my mom made corned beef and cabbage when I was a kid.

  2. Also: They don’t sell Russian dressing in the grocery store? That’s a shame. I blame Ranch.

  3. The above ways of cookin corned beef are definitely different to the way my mum cooked it. She would put peppercorns, golden syrup (I think u call it Cornsyrup) or brown sugar with water to cover..boil well for abt 15mins turn down and simmer for 1 1/2hrs..then she would add cabbage leaves not cut up..cook for a further 5mins not allowing the cabbage to wilt, but to let it crisp..delicious

  4. I won’t argue with keeping the cabbage crisp. I like it fully cooked through but my favorite bits are the really thick bases of the leaves where there’s still plenty of structure.

    Interesting adding sweetness to the liquid. Like I said, sometimes we make it sweet with a mustard brown sugar glaze, but I hadn’t thought to sweeten the whole thing inside and out. I’m afraid that the sweetness would be unwelcome in the hash from the leftovers, but it would probably good in the corned beef and cabbage meal.

  5. Come on over! If you start driving now you can be here by the end of the week. We’ll still have some left.

  6. Um…I bought Russian dressing just a couple of weeks ago. I think it was Ken’s brand.

    I’ve never had corned beef. I may need to remedy that…

  7. We have Ken’s brand dressing, but I’ve looked for and never found Russian. The grocery stores I frequent do suck, so that may have something to do with it.

    Would you say that Russian is a lot like Thousand Island?

  8. Huh. I thought I was as backwoods as Utah got!

    It seems to be a mix between catalina and thousand, however horrible that sounds…sorry! It really didn’t taste bad at all!

  9. I’m in Baltimore. Our stores suck because of poor management and incompetent staff, not because we’re backwoods. On the plus side, there’s a Wegman’s not too far away, which is the coolest grocery store I’ve seen. Also Trader Joe’s.

  10. Oh, sorry. I was wording that more for the backwoodsiness of my neighborhood (as in “wow…I thought we were the poor / deprived ones”) and not at all where you were (since I didn’t know!). I now realize I could have worded it a whole lot better…

    Trader Joes. Man. I miss TJ…

  11. RE: Russian Dressing

    Why buy Russian Dressing or Thousand Island? My Russian Mom, My self, as well as my Mom’s mother make their own Russian dressing using Mayonnaise, Ketchup, and Horseradish. It takes ABOUT 4 tablespoons of Mayo, 1 teaspoon of Horseradish, and a few squirts of Ketchup. It makes for the best tasting Rueben sandwiches I’ve ever had.

  12. Gabby, TJ’s might. I haven’t checked there.

    RJ, I’ve seen a lot of similar recipes for Russian. The “fry sauce” that I mentioned using is seasoned and spiced up mayo and ketchup. Throwing in some horseradish to that sounds like a good idea for Reubens. Thanks.

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