February 15, 2011

Corned Beef

MrsWheelbarrow's homemade corned beef, rye bread, pickles and sauerkraut, and Michael Ruhlman's Russian dressing.

Over the next 11 months, we'll be hosting Charcutepalooza, the year-long meat extravaganza masterminded by bloggers Cathy Barrow (our own MrsWheelbarrow) and Kim Foster.

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Each month brings a new challenge (e.g. duck prosciutto, salt curing), and a new roundup of the best posts -- which we'll feature on Food52. Charcutepalooza will culminate in a competition offering an amazing grand prize (details here). You can see a list of past challenges here, read the rules here, and see a list of the bloggers who've signed on here. And now, onto the next challenge...

charcutepalooza march challenge. brining.

by Cathy on February 14, 2011

Post image for charcutepalooza march challenge. brining.

Before we get going with the next challenge, Kim and I have to tell you how totally impressed we are. Seriously in awe. You ‘paloozers really rocked those pork bellies. It’s inspiring. We can’t wait to read all your posts and try some new recipes.

Please take some time today to click over to Michael Ruhlman’s blog. He graciously agreed to write a post on safety and sanity in the charcuterie kitchen just for Charcutepalooza. He’s covered so many important points, and there’s even more great information in the comments section. Thank you, Michael!

Big thanks go out to Scott for creating the uber-cool Charcutepalooza map – put your city on there, won’t you?

We’ll have more to report in a few days – plans are being finalized for butchery, charcuterie and meat-up events across the country. Just wait ’til you see what we’re up to.

Today, however, it’s all about the March challenge. So far, we’ve salted, added air and humidity, and made prosciutto. We’ve cured meat in salt for pancetta and roasted bacon. Now, we’re adding water, sugar, spices and herbs and getting that flavor right into the meat. Brining.

When we first worked on the Super Secret Calendar of Meat, Kim said “Brining? That’s not very sexy.” Yes, seriously. Sexy. She wanted sexy. I said, “It’s challenging. This is not your Thanksgiving pickled turkey. Let’s do brining like it’s never been done before.”

So there you are. Challenge on.

Brining is magical. Used for centuries and for good reason. Start with chicken, pork, turkey – or cabbage or cucumbers – and watch the transformation. Brining changes texture. It infuses flavor. It’s simple, inexpensive, and an important aspect of food preservation.

In the last few days, brining has filled this house with food memories -and that’s why I call it magical. Warm, happy memories. Maybe you’ll have the same experience.

For the Apprentice Challenge, we want you to brine a whole chicken or pork chops.

For the Charcutiere Challenge, we want you to brine, and then corn, a piece of beef. Brisket is the classic cut. Cow tongue is another option. You choose.

While not part of the challenge, consider some additional brining recipes. Brining and pickling are kissing cousins, after all. Just combine salt, sugar, water and herbs with a vegetable and you’ve got a pickle. Make sauerkraut. It’s so good for you, so healthy, and a great side dish to serve with corned beef and so many other kinds of charcuterie, for that matter. If you live somewhere temperate, find fresh-picked cucumbers and make half sour or full sour pickles. Or pickle some onions. Or carrots. Or radishes. Or jalapenos. How about kimchi? Really, you can pickle just about anything in a flash.

Brining. That’s some serious magic. Sexy? You bet.

D’Artagnan offers 25% off the meat-of-the-month to members of Charcutepalooza. Watch for an email with your secret code, arriving February 15th.

Apprentice Challenge: Sunday Dinner Pork Chop Memories
Shortly after Dennis and I first met, we visited his family in Michigan. Aunt Dorothy, an elegant, affable woman, then in her late 80’s, sat me down . “When Denny was a little boy, he would come over and eat a whole big plate of pork chops. It was pretty much all he would eat.”

Aunt Dorothy and I – we wrote letters to each other about food and gardens, and until her death a couple of years ago, had a wonderful special friendship. It’s her mother’s bread that remains the Holy Grail of White Bread against which all others are evaluated. Memories of Aunt Dorothy were vivid this week. Brining magic? I think so.

Dorothy grew up on a farm, and, with a twinkle in her eye, would tell the story of the Thanksgiving she recognized her pet turkey on the platter. She couldn’t really fathom why someone would opt to be a vegetarian. Dennis delighted her, she glowed with happiness when he walked into a room, but his food choices remained a mystery.

Now, while eating a primarily vegetarian diet, Dennis prefers ‘meat-reducer’ as a description. To this day, a pork chop dinner vies with roast chicken as quintessential comfort food. Start with the very best pork – in this case, from Stonyman Gourmet Farmer – fresh cut, gorgeous 1-1/2” pork loin chops, bone in.

I made the brine, brought it to a simmer to dissolve the salt and sugar, then put the pot outside in the snow to chill quickly. (I always find the most challenging part of brining is remembering to make the brine early enough to chill it thoroughly.)

The chops were thoroughly submerged in the brine and refrigerated for just two hours. Brian Polcyn’s sage and garlic brine is perfectly aromatic. The chops were seasoned, then simply seared and finished in the oven. I served buttery spaetzle, roasted carrots and turnips, spiced apples, and watermelon radish alongside.

Hands down the best pork chops I’ve ever had. No kidding. And Dennis? He was very happy. I’m having a friend for dinner next weekend and I plan to make the same menu. By making the brine and the spaetzle in the morning, I was able to pull together the entire dinner in under an hour.

And here’s my tip – pay close attention to the suggested times for brining in the Charcuterie book – an over-brined piece of meat is rubbery, pickled, and not at all pleasant.

Charcutiere Challenge: Delicatessen Memories
It’s Rosh Hashana. I’m five or six years old, at Brauer’s with my Grandfather Ben. I’m wearing my go-to-Temple dress, sitting on a high stool at the counter, legs dangling, feet kicking, a stainless steel bowl of sour and half sour pickles in front of me. Mr. Brauer knows I love pickles, and while he slices the corned beef, he kibbutzes with Ben about Temple politics. I’m concentrating. I eat the pickles, one by one, saving the quartered, green tomato pickle for last.

Ben ordered his corned beef “not too lean.” And for Mary, his wife, “make it nice and lean.” I thought about what that meant when I looked at the brisket. There was a little bit of fat on each side. I thought about trimming it off, and in retrospect, it might have been more attractive if I had, but I have no regrets. I chose the center cut because I wanted those long pretty slices you see at the deli. Really, it was all aesthetics – no scientific reason having to do with fat content or anything.

Once brined, simmering the brisket with additional pickling spices is all you need to do to make corned beef. And since it’s so easy, please make your own pickling spice, ok? Chill the meat completely before slicing thin, or serve it warm with the cooking liquid spooned over the top, alongside boiled potatoes and so on, for your St. Patrick’s Day feast.

Making corned beef was so straightforward, I can’t believe I haven’t done it before. I started with a 5.8# center cut brisket. After brining for five days, it weighed 6.3# – interesting, right? After corning, the meat weighed 3.8#. Way too much meat for one person – it was time to have a party.

Note to DC area Charcutepaloozer’s – Stonyman Gourmet Farmer at the Bethesda Women’s Market (W,F,Sa) sells Rappahannock County, humanely raised, meats. They are graciously providing meats for my challenge posts, and offering discounted prices for Charcutepalooza members. They do not ship. Email Susan to order. One week notice appreciated.

Party On – The Sandwich Smack Down

The Guests Panel of Judges
Paul and Elaine – grew up in and around Baltimore, going to delis and sandwich shops. They know their corned beef.
Sandi grew up in Pennsylvania, her father a Kosher butcher. ‘Deli’ was the only outside food brought into their house.
Richard didn’t grow up with deli food – his was more of an Oscar Meyer experience, but he’s been married to Sandi for awhile, so he’s learned a few things about good deli.
Gabby’s childhood in New Jersey meant frequent trips to a Paramus deli. She knows herself some deli, that’s what she says.

The kitchen is crowded. Paul’s manning the slicer and the corned beef is stacking up beautifully. We’re sipping Full Montys and munching candied bacon. We’re rhapsodizing about the marvels of the deli counter. Watching the deli man work the slicer. The overfilled refrigerated case. The shiny chubs and whitefish. The lox. That ubiquitous stainless steel bowl of pickles. Half sours. Full sours. Elaine mentioned the ever-present corned tongue and Sandi, Gabby and I all chimed in, agreeing. Actually seeing the taste buds. Fascinated but not appalled. It was all so natural, so much a part of our childhood. Do kids today have that experience? What was it about the tongue? We all grew up eating tongue sandwiches. I have to tell you, for a brief moment, I began to regret corning the brisket and started wishing for corned cow tongue instead. But then, I tasted the corned beef. O.M.G.

Seriously – this is a revelation. It’s silky, salty, sweet, herbal, delicate, moist. It’s incredible.

Ingredients – or why I love my larder


  • One corned beef brisket or tongue
  • 3 pints of Bloody Mary mix
  • Vodka – select your favorite, and pour according to your taste
  • 1 jar pickled asparagus, chilled
  • 1 pt sauerkraut, drained, rinsed, covered with beer, heated slowly
  • 1 pt dill spears, chilled
  • 1 qt. pickled green tomatoes, chilled


Rye bread, adding 1/4 c toasted wheat germ gives it that special chewiness
Pumpernickel bread, same recipe, substituting pumpernickel flour mix from King Arthur
Marbled loaf, with rye and pumpernickel rolled together, jellyroll style.
Russian dressing – recipe in Charcuterie – I added 1/2 t dry mustard and omitted the onion
The famous Angel’s cole slaw (The recipe is secret. I think I tasted buttermilk. It’s amazing. I wanted to lick the bowl. Ordinarily, I would have balked at the idea of purchased cole slaw, but Paul insisted, and he was so right.)

The Cocktail

The Full Monty – modeled after a drink served at The Woodberry Kitchen
Vodka + bloody mary mix + pickled asparagus + candied bacon

The Sandwiches



On the Side:

Angel’s cole slaw (I cannot get enough of this slaw. A new obsession.)
Dill pickles
Pickled green tomatoes
Homemade potato chips


The Decision:

We moaned as we ate the sandwiches. We groaned when we were done. There were plans for naps.

We ended with a Solomon-like decision. While we each stood by our life-long favorites, the group suggests the best offering from a deli would be a half sandwich each – the Cloak and Dagger and the Reuben. And some Angel’s coleslaw on the side.

Have a great time with your brining experiments. Post your recipes on the 15th, please, and not before. (We like to create a commotion and 300 posts on one day should do that.)

Share your blog post with Punk Domestics. Cross post and upload photos on Charcutepalooza’s Facebook page and Flickr page. And don’t forget to share all those great original recipes on Food52.

Charcutepalooza loves our sponsors. D’Artagnan offers 25% off the meat-of-the-month. If you aren’t receiving your email with the secret code for Charcutepalooza members, register here. And the trip to France – an awesome grand prize deliciously designed by Trufflepig and Kate Hill at Camont.

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FoodiesAreFun March 23, 2011
I joined Charcutepalooza late and therefore am not able to compete for the prize. Regardless I am so excited to be a part of it!

Here is my first post on Brining Local Mangalitsa Pork.

Bon Apetite!

candycan February 20, 2011
My Hubby and I have just started making yummy sausages and now are first corned beef.
I salute you in your endeavors, lovin Ruhlmans book. Thank You Thank YOU.
wanderash February 18, 2011
Oh, I so want to take on the cow's tongue.... but I have never made corned beef and your pictures make me want to lick the computer screen.... perhaps both??
My P. February 16, 2011
My grandfather was a butcher and always raved about his corned beef, but the butcher shop was closed long before I was old enough the share the table. I am excited to try corning my own beef this month!
MrsWheelbarrow February 15, 2011
Ha! That "sandwich press" was hilarious. And precarious.
Amanda H. February 15, 2011
So funny -- at first I thought it was your pile of dishes and then I noticed the sandwiches underneath the pots. Love your improvisation!
cookedheads February 15, 2011
reading this is like watching all three rings and the aerialists at the same time. delightful, overwhelming and leaves me with a silly grin on my face.
hardlikearmour February 15, 2011
Love your improvised sandwich press! This post is making me crave a good Reuben. Nicely done, MrsW.