This isn’t quite pickling, but it is similar, easy, and oh, so rewardingly tasty. Plus, it makes lots of leftovers!
I love corned beef. High-quality corned beef, cheap deli corned beef, real corned beef hash, corned beef hash from a can. I just love corned beef. So, last winter, I decided to make my own. I searched through quite a few recipes until I figured out a theme and could take the average of how much salt was needed and for how many days I should leave the beef corning. In other words, I invented a sort-of recipe, not exactly an unusual turn of events for me! Now, I love homemade corned beef best of all!
For the record, “corning” is essentially a really long marinating process. The meat is left in heavily salted brine for a certain amount of time, with the desired spices. It is not pickling, per se, and does not, to the best of my knowledge, involve any fermentation. I was always told that the verb “to corn” came from the English reference to the large salt crystals that used to be used to cure meats; I gather the salt was what we would refer to as “coarse,” or perhaps even coarser than that, and thus looked like grains, which, in England, were called “corn.” Corning is a salt-curing process for meat, but not a dry-salting, which dries out the meat and preserves it that way, similar to how jerky is made.
At any rate, last year, I took three Joy of Cooking recipes for corned beef from wildly different editions (1943, 1975, 1997) and cross-referenced them with each other, as well as the recipe in my pickling bible, The Joy of Pickling (no relation to the well-known cook book), and the recipe from my meat bible, The River Cottage Meat Book. In the end, I went with something closely resembling the Joy of Cooking edition printed in 1943, except that I greatly increased the quantity of spices added, as well as the complexity, by using about 1/3 to 1/2 a cup of Penzey’s Spices Corned Beef spice blend, and I corned the beef for more like 3-4 days (at which point it was waaaaaaay to salty, but I suppose that’s not a bad thing if you want it to keep forever). The 1943 “Joy” recipe is as follows, with my alterations in italics.:
5-6 lbs beef brisket
8 c water
1 c salt
3 Tb sugar
1 bay leaf (or 4 or 5)
2 tsp mixed pickling spices and 6 peppercorns (or more like 2 tsp black peppercorns, 2 tsp coriander, 2 tsp dill seed, ½-1 tsp whole cloves, 3-4 tsp whole mustard, 8-12 whole allspice, a few blades of mace, and a 1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes if you don’t have the Penzey’s blend)
I minced clove garlic (normally, I would add more garlic to any recipe, so I did when I made this. After tasting it, though, I would say keep the garlic as is or completely omit it)
¼ tsp saltpeter if desired
Combine all ingredients except the beef in a pot and bring to a boil. Allow to cool to room temperature. Place beef in a large, seal-able container (I used the same crock with an airlock that I use to make kosher dill pickles and sauerkraut). Pour brine and spice liquid over beef. Weight the beef with a clean plate or a ziplock bag filled with more brine (my preferred method), so that it stays submerged. Leave beef corning in a cool place, 36-45 degrees. (I used my basement, which is perfectly 34-40 most the winter. You can use your fridge if you have room in it!)
Brine for 36 hours. (I forgot and left it corning for close to 4 days. There’s no harm in that, it just ends up saltier, which is easily remedied. Given my experience, I would guess that 36 hours would be too short—maybe 48 or even two and a half days.)
To prepare the beef once it is done corning, rinse the meat with cold water, put it in a large pot, cover it with cold water, and bring it to a boil. Simmer it on low for 2 or so hours with a large (chopped) onion. Taste the meat and the broth, if both are too salty, set aside half the broth (keep it to add great flavor to soups and other dishes!), top off with more clean water, and simmer again. If the broth tastes just a touch saltier than you’d want to drink straight, it’s perfect. Add your carrots and potatoes and simmer for half to 1 hour, until they are very tender. If you desire cabbage, you can toss slices in 15 minutes before you intend to turn off the heat. Serve meat and veggies in wide soup bowls (what I call “plate-bowls”) with a little broth. Provide butter and ground pepper, as well as horseradish.
Have fun and enjoy!