Welcome to Gaining Elevation, a column dedicated to kicking your kitchen game up a notch. We’ll explore classic and often-used recipes, and get professional insight into how to get great results every time. From desserts and cocktails to mains and sides, nothing’s out of bounds!
Though winter has made an assertive return to Jackson Hole this week, the truth endures: Spring is around the corner. While March has been known to bring a few more snowstorms, temperatures start to rise, snowbanks start to diminish, and the afternoon sun thankfully lingers a little longer before slipping behind the mountains. March also brings a holiday with a highly specific food association – a menu of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day.
Sure, the grocery store offers an easy route. Pick up a pre-marinated pouch of beef, dump in the flavor pouches and boil away. But, fellow home chefs, there is another way. Corned beef is easy to make from scratch, it simply takes some planning ahead. So, if you’re ready to leave the snowscapes behind, start planning your own St. Patty’s Day spread.
First things first: no, there’s no corn in corned beef. The name originates from the large grains of salt that were traditionally used during the curing process. The big grains were called “corns.” No need to drum up special-sized salt for this recipe, though.
Eric Navratil, sous chef at Snake River Brewing, shares how he marinates and cooks homemade corned beef for peak results. The meat will need to marinate for five days, so if you want it on the table alongside your Guinness, the latest you’ll want to get started is around March 12.
When it comes to selecting meat, Navratil says that if keeping kosher is important, stick with the flat cut of brisket. If that’s not a priority, you can go ahead and use a regular brisket. Either way, aim for a piece that’s about 5 pounds.
In 1 gallon of water, add 2 cups of salt, 2/3 cup of brown sugar and three garlic cloves. “I like a lot of flavor, so I will often use more garlic. I go up to half a cup of minced garlic,” Navratilsays. The recipe also requires 5 tablespoons of “pink salt,” but don’t reach for that fancy shaker of Himalayan salt just yet. In this context, the moniker actually refers to a kind of curing salt that includes table salt and sodium nitrite.
“You definitely don’t want to use too much of that,” Navratil says. “It’s a preservative that helps maintain the meat’s pink or red color.” So, while it keeps the meat from getting grey, it is important to not add too much of the chemical to the brine.
Finally, add about 4 tablespoons of pickling spice. “You can absolutely make your own and adjust it. Personally, I like to toast the mustard seeds because it really brings out their flavor,” Navratil says. “But it’s also an easy thing to go pick up at the grocery store.” (If you’d like to blend your own, here’s a great place to start.)
Once the mixture is ready, plop in the meat. Ensuring that it’s fully submerged is key. Putting the meat and brine into a large plastic bag and then into a bowl with a plate on top can help achieve full submersion. Slide the whole thing into the fridge, and let it rest for 5 days.
When it’s done soaking, pull the meat from the brine and give it a thorough rinse. “Be sure to get all of the peppercorns and such off the surface,” Navratil says. In a 4-6 inch deep roasting pan, cover the meat with cold water. Sprinkle in a little more pickling spice, and cover it well. Navratil suggests plastic wrap and foil, or a well-fitting lid. “Especially in the oven, the liquid can evaporate really fast,” he says. Keeping the liquid is key to cooking tender meat.
After 3 to 4 hours in the oven, check that it’s fork tender. (Tongs or the handle of a wooden spoon should slide easily through the middle.)
Navratil suggests pulling the meat and letting it rest, and then utilizing the juice to cook cabbage, carrots or potatoes for some extra flavor.
There’s a good chance there won’t be many leftovers, but if there are? Navratil says the absolute best way to use next-day corned beef is to whip up some sauerkraut and Russian dressing to make the perfect reuben. So you might as well pick up some rye bread while you’re out.