My mother, a full-blooded Italian-American, loves corned beef and cabbage this time of year. In fact, of the dishes I remember her making many times when growing up, the big pot of corned beef and cabbage is the only one that comes to mind that doesn’t involve red sauce or Italian spices. Thus, when Charcutepalooza’s third challenge was to brine our own brisket for corned beef, I immediately thought of my mother. Unfortunately she is five hundred miles away, but I still have a pot of brining brisket in my fridge at the moment in her honor.
Interestingly, I haven’t encountered much corned beef and cabbage in my past decade-plus of inhabiting the very Irish city of Boston. And this despite that my husband is a musician who regularly plays most of the Irish pubs within a three mile radius (which is many more pubs than one who has not spent time in the Boston area might imagine). I also never noticed it on a menu when I accompanied him on an Irish tour a few years back, where we enjoyed meals of mostly lamb stews or shepherds pie with beef at a dozen or so pubs and restaurants around the west and south of Ireland. So I did a little research and discovered that corned beef and cabbage is not an Irish dish. In fact, Ireland provided much of the meat for cured – or “corned” beef – that was then shipped to England, France and the English colonies from the 1600s to the mid 1800s, often at the expense of the nutrition of the Irish. Some Irish, when they arrived in America, began eating corned beef because of its associations with luxury in their home country coupled with its modest price in their adopted country.
Come to think of it, the corned beef that I have most recently eaten has been in a reuben sandwich from a Jewish deli – and might have been labeled as brisket or brined brisket and not “corned beef”. However the term “corned” refers to the Old English word for “particles” or the salt that was used to preserve the meat, so any salt-cured meat could be called thus. Yum, reubens. I’ll have to make at least one with my cured brisket. Which will be ready in three days and twenty two hours. I am already counting down… Sorry you won’t be able to taste this, Mom!
Corning – or wet-curing – brisket is easy. I heated the salt, sugar and spices to help them dissolve in the water. Note that I heated them in a smaller pot and then cooled that mixture to add to the larger pot with the meat. I could have done in all in the same pot but this way I can start curing sooner because less has to cool before I add the meat.
Once the brine was assembled and cooled, I submerged a four pound brisket into the pot.
And then put a bowl on top to keep it submerged. I will let this sit for four days in the fridge and then will simmer this in a pot with fresh water and spices for about three to four hours, adding cabbage, carrots and onions to the broth in the last half hour or so. Then I will call my mother and tell her that I am thinking of her.