This recipe is in two parts. Part 1, Brining the Meat, is instructions on how to turn a beef brisket into brined, raw corned beef. Part 2, Cooking Corned Beef, is how to cook the raw corned beef, whether you brined it yourself or bought it already soaking in brine.
Corned Beef Part 1: Brining a Beef Brisket
Corned beef is an inexpensive cut of meat, beef brisket, which is then soaked in salty water, called brine. Historically, beef was “corned” in order to preserve it and ship it without refrigeration. The word “corn” is an old word for grains of salt.
Corned beef brine also historically used saltpeter as an ingredient. Saltpeter is a chemical used in the making of gunpowder, and it is not particularly good for you. Because we have no need to preserve meat for months in a barrel without refrigeration, this recipe does not include saltpeter. Saltpeter adds no flavor to the meat. Aside from preserving the meat, the only other thing it does is cause the meat to have an odd pink color. Without the saltpeter, your corned beef will be gray. This is just fine.
You will need the following:
1 beef brisket
2 quarts water
1 cup salt
To this, you can add any number of different spices. The following is just one possibility. If you don't have everything on this list, don't worry about it! And if you happen to have ground spices instead of whole, you can use that instead.
1 tsp whole peppercorns
½ tsp whole cloves
8 bay leaves, crumbled
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
½ tsp allspice berries
1 tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp ground ginger
And have on hand:
2 trays of ice
1 2-gallon ziploc bag, or a 2-gallon plastic container (preferably with a lid), or a glass or enamel container large enough to hold the meat and the brine.
In a pot on the stove, heat the water, salt, and spices, stirring until the salt dissolves. Add the ice to the water to cool it. This is your brine. If necessary, refrigerate the brine in order to chill it. Then put the meat into the brining container, and pour in as much of the brine as will fit. Try to completely submerge the meat in the brine; but if it doesn't fit entirely, you can turn it over occasionally over the next ten days.
Now put the container in the refrigerator. The meat needs to soak in the brine for about ten days to get that proper corned-beef flavor, but you can pull it out a few days sooner or a few days later. If the beef isn't entirely submerged in the brine, turn it over every few days. This is a handy recipe for feeding visiting relatives, because you can get it ready a week in advance, and then there it is, on hand, and ready to cook at your convenience.
Corned Beef Part 2: Boiled Dinner
“Boiled Dinner” is a New England meal consisting of boiled corned beef, and potato, carrots, and cabbage, all cooked in the corned beef cooking water. You can use this with a corned beef that you have brined yourself, or you can use a raw corned beef from the grocery store.
As an aside, you can boil a corned beef without the vegetables – but why waste that delicious cooking water? At the very least, you should save the cooking water in the refrigerator to cook some vegetables in later. The cooking water from corned beef imparts an amazingly delicious flavor on cabbage.
1 raw corned beef
1 cabbage (or less, if it's a really big one)
a few potatoes
a few carrots (or rutabaga, parsnip, or turnip)
an onion or two
Rinse the corned beef thoroughly and discard the brine. Then put the beef in a large pot, and cover it with water by about an inch. Bring this to a boil over high heat; then reduce the heat to low, put the lid on, and let the pot simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours, or until the meat is “fork tender”. Remove the corned beef from the pot and slice it thinly against the grain.
Now, have those vegetables ready to go into the pot. The root vegetables should be scrubbed and cut into bite-sized pieces. Peel the onion and cut it into quarters. Cut the cabbage into wedges. (You can stick toothpicks through the cabbage wedges to keep them together.) These all go into the corned beef water, and get boiled until they are tender.
Then return the sliced corned beef to the pot, and serve it up like a soup or a stew. And be sure to save that leftover corned beef for sandwiches!