Q: I use to use a recipe I got from the Chicago Tribune for making your own corned beef from scratch, using whatever cut of beef you wanted. Recipe dates back to 1993 or 1994. The last time I used the recipe was 1999. I was going to try the recipe again this year, but I can't seem to find it. Just wondering if a recipe will be published in the food section this month?
—Don Hines, Bridgeview, Ill.
A: I looked in the archives for a make-your-own recipe within the time frame you mentioned and found a Peter Kump column from March 12, 1992. Kump was founder of an influential New York City cooking school now known as The Institute of Culinary Education and helped establish the James Beard Foundation. He died in 1995.
Kump's recipe is good and certainly doable. Trouble is, the recipe calls for the meat to soak in brine for 7 to 14 days depending on the size. I've sent you a copy of Kump's recipe by email, otherwise your corned beef wouldn't be ready by St. Patrick's Day, which is the holiday most associated with the dish in the United States.
For all the rest of us do-it-yourselfers, I'm offering this 2011 recipe from James P. DeWan, a chef and culinary instructor at Chicago's Kendall College, who writes the "Prep School" column in the Good Eating section. It's quicker, calling for just 4 to 5 days to cure the 5-pound brisket called for. Do it today or tomorrow and you'll be set for March 17.
DeWan's recipe calls for TCM or "pink salt." It's a "mixture of sodium nitrite and salt called 'tinted curing mixture' (TCM) — aka 'pink salt' or 'curing salt,'" he writes. "TCM is available online or in restaurant supply stores under names like Prague Powder, Insta-Cure or Morton's Curing Salt. It prevents the growth of the bacteria that cause botulism. It also provides flavor and gives corned beef its distinctive red color rather than have it turn a dismal gray."
Could you do without the TCM? "You're fine," DeWan tells me, but the color won't be the same. (No problem, in my opinion. Just slide some boiled cabbage leaves over the meat or camouflage with horseradish sauce.)
Once the meat is brined, follow your favorite corned beef recipe for cooking.
Homemade corned beef
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Chill: 3 hours
Cure: 4-5 days
This recipe of James P. DeWan is an adaptation of a recipe by his Kendall colleague, chef Pierre Checchi. Look for 2-gallon zip-close plastic bags, or use a large, nonreactive container.
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 gallon water
11 ounces kosher salt
3 1/2 ounces dextrose, see note
1/2 tablespoon pickling spice
3/4 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 1/2 ounces TCM (pink salt)
1 piece (5 pound) brisket, fat trimmed to 1/4-inch, cut in half
1. Puree garlic and 1 cup water in blender. In a large pot, add puree, remaining water, salt, dextrose, pickling spice and peppercorns. Heat to a boil; remove from heat. Stir to dissolve salt and dextrose. Cool to room temperature; cool in refrigerator. Stir TCM into cold brine to dissolve.
2. Place brisket in a sealable plastic bag large enough to hold it and brine. Add brine to bag, making sure brisket is completely submerged.
3. Place bag inside a large bowl; refrigerate 4 or 5 days. Check periodically to make sure meat is submerged. Flip in brine as needed to ensure complete coverage.
4. When beef is ready, remove from brine, discarding brine. Rinse, pat dry and cook in simmering water following your favorite corned beef recipe.
Note: Dextrose, aka glucose, is a simple sugar commonly available in health-food stores and brewing supply companies. You may use granulated sugar.
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