Charcuterie is a culinary specialty that originally referred to the creation of pork products such as salami, sausages, and prosciutto. It is true food craftsmanship, the art of turning preserved food into items of beauty and taste. Today the term encompasses a vast range of preparations, most of which involve salting, cooking, smoking, and drying.
In addition to providing classic recipes for sausages, terrines, and patés, Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn have expanded the definition to include anything preserved or prepared ahead such as Mediterranean olive and vegetable rillettes, duck confit, pickles and sauerkraut. I’m enjoying my forays into their book, ‘Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing.’ I’ve been amazed at how easy some of these processes are, especially since the results lend themselves to such stellar results!
See that beautiful brining liquid…that is the secret. Though I’ve always enjoyed corned beef; seasoning the brine yourself gives you some control over the magic and the outcome is nothing less than amazing compared to what you know. I’ve taken the liberty of using a photo of the brine taken by Michael’s wife Donna. I only wish my nails were so nicely groomed!
I’ve been a fan of Michael’s for a long time though in the spirit of full disclosure I must admit part of that was simply because he was the cute guy on Iron Chef! But I’m open to seeing beyond that pretty face and love his blog, the conversations that ensue and am enjoying, with his assistance this venture into something I would have never once considered doing before.
I made the corned beef knowing I would be making Reuben sandwiches. After ‘corning’ the beef, and making a side dish of coleslaw, I was assembling the ingredients and grilling this sandwich that was almost a week in the making. I wondered if any sandwich could be worth the time and the mess in my kitchen. I decided to take a break and watch TV for a bit and enjoy my lunch. Did you hear my response after the first bite? I’m certain I literally made a noise; not a grunt, not a yum, maybe a bit of a moan and I know anyone listening would have recognized it as the sound of absolute nirvana. ABSOLUTELY worth it!
Though I pride myself on always mixing it up a bit when I cook from a recipe, this is verbatim; why mess with success (or the complete unknown)? So I followed Michael’s recipe and directions to the letter and it was absolutely perfect.
I must note…I bought a lot of new spices for the pickling spice mixture because I had ground spices and not seeds. I did not note until later that they were all ground together. So substitute in your ground spices and don’t make the same mistake I did! Also, if you decide you don’t have the time; I’ve used a packaged brisket to make Reuben sandwiches too; that recipe is here!
For the Pickling Spice!
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons hot red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons allspice berries
- 1 tablespoon ground mace
- 2 small cinnamon sticks, crushed or broken into pieces
- 2 to 4 bay leaves, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger.
For the Brine!
- 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 teaspoons pink salt (sodium nitrite), optional
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 tablespoons pickling spice
- 1 5-pound beef brisket
For Cooking the Beef
- 1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 medium onion, peeled and cut in two
- 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped.
To Make the Pickling Spice Mixture:
- Combine peppercorns, mustard seeds and coriander seeds in a small dry pan. Place over medium heat and stir until fragrant, being careful not to burn them; keep lid handy in case seeds pop.
- Crack peppercorns and seeds in mortar and pestle or with the side of a knife on cutting board.
- Combine with other spices, mix. Store in tightly sealed plastic or glass container.
This looks like a lot but really, it's not. You mix and grind the spices, add them to water with the brisket, keep it chilled for 5 days and then on the 5th day you cook the meat with a couple of vegetables and more spices. I actually think I spent almost as much time figuring out how to cut the meat...and did find it should be sliced on an angle to the grain so you don't end up with strings of the finished product.
To Make the Brisket:
- In pot large enough to hold brisket, combine 1 gallon of water with kosher salt, sugar, sodium nitrite (if using), garlic and 2 tablespoons pickling spice (below). Bring to a simmer, stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled.
- Place brisket in brine, weighted with a plate to keep it submerged; cover. Refrigerate for 5 days.
- Remove brisket from brine and rinse thoroughly. Place in a pot just large enough to hold it. Cover with water and add remaining pickling spice, carrot, onion and celery. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer gently until brisket is fork-tender, about 3 hours, adding water if needed to cover brisket. (I cooked mine on low overnight in a crock pot; I'll do it next time on the stovetop and see what different I can discern. There will be a next time!)
- Keep warm until ready to serve. Meat can be refrigerated for several days in cooking liquid. Reheat in the liquid or serve chilled. Slice thinly against the grain and serve on a sandwich or with additional vegetables simmered until tender in the cooking liquid.
A note about the salt from Michael: Salt level not hugely critical here because it’s basically boiled and excess salt moves into cooking liquid. You can weigh out 12 ounces here if you feel better using a scale (approximately a 10% brine).
Or you can simply make a 5% brine of however much water you need to cover (6.4 ounces per gallon). When you cook it, season the cooking liquid to the level you want your meat seasoned. Another option is wrapping the brisket in foil and cooking it in a 225 degree oven till tender, but only do this if you’ve used the 5% brine.