Corned beef is the first cured meat product I ever made, traditionally making a brine and letting the meat cure in that brine for 10-14 days. Voila! Corned beef!
Homemade corned beef is so much better than the commercial corned beef sold in stores. You control the ingredients and the quality of the meat. It’s easy, and the only limitation is that you need to plan ahead for the curing time.
The drawbacks of the traditional wet-brined method are that it takes up a lot of room in the refrigerator, the salt level of the finished product can be tricky to determine (especially if using a recipe from the Internet or a cookbook where salt levels are much higher than they need to be, and the spices are not in direct contact with the meat, but rather in diluted solution.
With my charcuterie projects over the past few years, I was thinking that an equilibrium cure would solve all of these limitations. As we have discussed elsewhere, an equilibrium cure is all about the salt and cure level. The concept is that the salt and cure are weighed out as a percentage of the weight of the meat, based on the salt level needed for safety and for the desired salt level in the finished product. Salt level should be in the range of 1.5-3%, with the generally accepted salt level to be roughly 2.5%. Above that, and salt taste starts to dominate; below that, the salt may seem to be lacking. Curing salt, for safety purposes, must be at 0.25%.
There is a lot more leeway in the spices used for flavoring. To estimate this, I used an amount that would give a nice even coat over the meat. For my 2850g (6.27 lb.) brisket, I used 2.5% salt (71g), 0.25% cure #1 (7.1g), and 1.75% (50g) pickling spice, coarsely ground. Mix the salts and spices together, rub evenly over the surface of the meat. You don’t have to use a brisket, you can use whatever cut you want. It doesn’t have to be beef, either. Beef tongue is a favorite of mine.
Pickling Spice Mix
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 tablespoons brown mustard seeds
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon smoked hot red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons allspice berries
1 tablespoon whole mace
2 broken cinnamon sticks
6 fresh bay leaves, microwaved for 10 seconds to release fragrance
2 tablespoons whole cloves
1 tablespoon ground ginger
Toast the first four spices in a dry skillet, cool and mix with the rest of the spices. I try to use this up within a month. Store in an airtight container.
For the corn beef, grind the weighed out amount of pickling spice in a spice mill.
Seal the meat in a vacuum bag. Keep the bag in the refrigerator for 14 days, flipping the bag over every day or so to make sure the juices redistribute. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can use a large zip top bag, and just submerge the whole thing in water before closing the seal so that all air is forced out. Make sure all air is out to maximize exposure of the meat to the salt and spice, and also because using this curing method, this bag will be used not just for the cure, but also for the sous vide step to come.
Once the curing step is done, heat a water bath with an immersion circulator to 140F. Remove the meat from the refrigerator, keeping it in its package, to let it come to room temperature as the water heats. When the temperature of the water gets to 140F, put the bagged meat in the water bath and let it run for 48 hours. If you don’t have a lid on the water bath (recommended) or floating balls to reduce evaporation, you may need to add water over the 48 hours.
After 48 hours, the corned beef is finally ready. Remove from the water bath and let it rest for 1-2 hours so it will retain its juices. There will be some purged liquid in the bag. Just discard that, or you may add it to poaching liquid to cook potatoes, carrots, and cabbage to go with your corned beef.
For me, I am a big fan of Reuben sandwiches. Rye bread, Russian dressing, Swiss cheese, thinly sliced corned beef, and sauerkraut. Toasted, with fried, and a good dill pickle!
1/2 cup mayonaisse
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup relish
1T prepared horseradish
3 cloves black garlic, smashed into paste
1t spicy paprika
Mix well a day in advance of when you will use the dressing. Store refrigerated.
When you say, “let it rest for 1-2 hours”, is this in the bag? It obviously goes against every instinct to leave sous-vide meat in the bag because of botulism, but I assume the curing salt prevents this. Am I right?
You can let it rest in the bag or remove from the bag. The important thing is not to slice immediately, or all the juice will release and the meat will be dry. There is not a risk of botulism to leave sous vide meat in the bag. If you follow safe rules for sous vide, the risks are actually reduced. See https://www.douglasbaldwin.com/sous-vide.html
This is exactly what I was looking for. I am corning an entire packer brisket broken down into smaller cuts to share with family and do not have the fridge space for a wet brine container.
I will use a dry eq calculator and just measure out cure/salt for each cut.
Now everything will be ready cook when distributed. No need for desalinization on the recipients end.
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Thanks for commenting. You’re on the right track!
I followed your procedure, and my brisket has been in the fridge for 13 days. Was there visible liquid in the bag when you did yours? Mine is looking pretty dry. I was just curious if that is how it’s supposed to be.
This is a great guide. Glad you posted it.
Hi Jon, excellent question. Sometimes there is more liquid than other times. I have one in the water bath now, and it only made a few spoonfuls of liquid during the curing step. As long as the cure is evenly distributed and you flipped the bag in the fridge, it will be fine. Thanks for your feedback!