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Corned Beef and Cabbage (or, how I got lucky): Part 1 of 3

Get your minds out of the gutter. Seriously!

The very first meal I ever cooked for my husband when we first started dating was corned beef and cabbage. I figure it must have been lucky, because he eventually married me – right?

I wanted to impress him, so I didn’t just go out and buy one of those pink, sodium and nitrate/nitrite infused bits of brisket with the seasoning packet inside (although I have been known to use this method on occasion). No, I actually corned the sucker myself, over a period of about a week.

Now it’s become a bit of a tradition for us – every year I cook corned beef and cabbage with potatoes for St. Patty’s day. This year, I’m sharing that tradition with all of you. This is quite a process, so bear with me. I promise the end result is totally worth it.

Oh!  And be sure to stay tuned for Part 2 – wherein I drain the brine from the meat and add the cabbage!  It’s exciting stuff, and you won’t want to miss it.  I might even cook some potatoes…. And you certainly won’t want to miss Part 3 – corned beef hash.  This is the meal that just keeps on giving!

First, for the beef – it is admittedly difficult this time of year to find a brisket that is not already trimmed, brined and packaged. With a little effort, though, you can do it. You need about 4-5 pounds of meat for this recipe. I was able to find an 8-lb brisket for about $2/lb, so I bought the whole thing. I cut it in half and froze the second portion to be used at a later date for barbecue or something (there’s really no such thing as too much meat in my house).

About a week out, prepare the brine. This version was derived from a Sara Moulton recipe, back in her Cooking Live days.

Ingredients

* 4 quarts water
* 1 1/2 pounds kosher salt
* 1 pound dark brown sugar
* 2 bay leaves
* 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
* 1 teaspoon dried thyme
* 10 juniper berries
* 10 crushed peppercorns
* 1 tablespoon baking soda
* 4 gallons boiling water
* 1 egg, in shell
* Salt, if needed
* Cold water to cover meat
* 1 (5 pound) beef brisket
* 5 cloves garlic

Bring first 8 ingredients to a boil and let boil for 5 minutes. Leave the brine to cool. Clean a plastic bucket and its lid with a solution of 1 tablespoon baking soda to 1 gallon boiling water. Rinse well and leave to drain dry.

To test the saltiness of the brine put egg, in shell in the cooled brine. If it doesn’t float, add enough salt until it does.

To draw off any excess blood and to help the brine penetrate, pierce the beef all over with a skewer and place meat in cold water for about 45 minutes. Remove the meat from water and place in crock or bucket. Pour the cooled brine over the brisket. Add garlic to the brine. Place a plate on top of the brisket to submerge. Place a lid or plastic wrap over container. Store in a refrigerator or dry place, at a temperature below 60 degrees. Salting time depends on the thickness of the meat. Allow 3 to 10 days for salting time for brisket.

This will sit in my fridge all week.  I’ll check it periodically, turning the meat to make sure that all sides get equal time in the brine.

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