Friday, March 9, 2012

I'd Love For You To Come, But You've Gotta Stay Here and Cure

Headed towards the Old Miss this weekend for a touch of relaxation whilst sitting outside whittling wood and letting the smoke from the fire and whiskey from the still soak in a bit. Naturally, before leaving, we decided to get a hunk of brisket brining for next week's festivities. Mind you, there'll be no green beer and no green uniforms (guys: white long-sleeved shirt under green short-sleeved shit, preferably with Cubs logo, girls: green and white striped thigh-highs, short shorts and green star antennae things). Just some really solid corned beef and cabbage--the kind you want to eat--and of course plenty of solid beer and whiskey to match. You know, like a normal day 'round the FotD headquarters.

The brisket came from the fatty cap end--though usually my preference for corned beef and most things brisket is the first cut/flat cut as it's a bit easier to drive, if you will. But in this case, I took what was available, and was reminded of an older friend in Boston, who told the story of his father courting his mother way back when. The father, a city boy, was finally invited to the farmhouse of the country girl's family for Sunday dinner. A roast was passed around and made its first stop in front of the guest. He looked at the slices in front of him, nervously pondering which one to take. He spotted the fatty piece, and thought that he'd be doing the most honorable thing by taking it, sparing the good, meaty pieces for the rest of the family, namely the father. Unfortunately, as soon as the serving fork touched the fatty piece, the father--watching in judgement with a farmer's hunger--sprang down upon the poor boy (verbally; the shotgun stayed on the wall) and let him know which piece he'd better not take. Heart racing, the boy returned the fatty piece and took another--any other--and watched as the platter was passed back through all of the children's hands to the father, who claimed the coveted fatty piece.

The moral of the story here? Fat is good. So is understanding who you're dealing with.

Anyway, the beautiful piece of meat scored from The Butcher and Larder is now in a really strong brine made of mustard seed, coriander, chile flake, allspice, bay leaf, clove, garlic, ginger and a whole lot of salt, pepper and sugar. I didn't use pink curing salts this time around, namely because I misplaced the ones I have at home (kind of scary) and have, as mentioned, the mighty Mississippi calling my name so have no time to get some; plus, I'd like to see the results of a nitrate-free brine. The color of the meat won't be electric pink like usual, and the flavor will be a touch more mild. But nonetheless, it will be delicious--and devoured.
Side note--why is it called "corned" beef? Well, as Harold McGee explains in On Food and Cooking, way back when, corn was a generic term coming from the same root--and meaning the same thing as--"kernel" or "grain". Thus, the grains of salt used to cure the beef were called "corn". And thus, the term corned beef came to life. Weird.

A common problem with brining a huge hunk of meat is the "where do I do this" conundrum. Tough to say depending on your setup at home--get a huge brining bag and set it in a pot in the fridge or, if you live in a place that hasn't been either warm or below freezing all winter, and hovers in the 33-40ºF range, set it on the fire escape, covered and weighed down lest the squirrels get in it. Me, I sealed it in a bag after removing the air, and made a little bed for it in a crisper drawer in my fridge, just in case of any blowouts or leaks. Corned beef is good; brining liquid all over the bread and Busch Light isn't. This 4 pounder will stay in the brine for about 5 days or so, then move to fresh water for a night, then braised low and slow. We'll eat some straight away, but for the big dinner, I love slicing the brisket nice and thick, then searing it on a cast iron griddle. You'll get a lovely, crisp and caramelized crunch that yields to the soft, braised meat below. At any rate, this isn't something that has to only fall on St. Patrick's day--brined and braised brisket is not only a tongue-twister--it's a year-round delight.

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