February Challenge: The Salt Cure

February 28, 2011

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

Each month brings a new challenge (e.g. duck proscuitto, 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 results of the brining challenge...

See Cathy's announcement of February's challenge: The Salt Cure, here. Read on below for Kim's tales of brining (the current challenge) and her roundup of the best posts on salt-curing.

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There is No Corn in Corned Beef

- Kim Foster

When I was a kid, Saint Patrick's Day meant three things - Going to school dressed head to toe in green, wearing a very large "Kiss Me I’m Irish" pin - which was as good as asking to be kissed and pretty provocative Lady Gaga stuff in my upstate New York middle school - and after school, as soon as Dad got home from work, eating a boiled dinner my mom had made. Corned Beef, cabbage and potatoes.

The tradition was inked into my yearly calendar through the 70's, as part of me as multi-colored striped knee socks and my bay city rollers scarf, although by highschool I was tired of getting beaten up in the girls locker room for being a dork and all that remained of the tradition was my mom's corned beef homage.

Later, when I moved to NYC on my own, I spent nearly every Saint Patrick's Day howling with my neighbors at a dark Irish pub on the Upper West Side, sitting low in a leather banquet with an ale in my hand, strangers reveling all around me. I always ordered the corn beef, boiled potatoes and cabbage. Never deviated. Because that dinner is locked in my Saint Patricks' Day DNA. To me, that day and that meal are linked. It feels authentic. Irish. I had been known to step out of the bar into the cool night for a smoke, and call my mom, just to say "Hi". For no particular reason.

Corned beef can do that to a girl.

As we're making corned beef for Charcutepalooza, and Lucy and I are making our brine, and Cathy is holding sandwich-making contests and weighing in on which is better, The Reuben or the Cloak and Dagger, I've also been trying to explain - stupidly explain - to my girls why there is no corn in corned beef. This simple and completely logical question forced me to start googling and find out exactly what I was making and eating. Why is it called corned beef? Apparently, the corn refers to the coarse kernels of salt used to cure the beef back in the old days. The children still looked at me baffled, but okay, mystery solved.

But my whole idea of a traditional Irish dinner shifted when I stumbled upon Francis Lam's terrific piece on corned beef and the Irish in America. I suggest you read it. If nothing else, it explains how the idea of an "authentic food" is subjective, ever-changing, personal, loose, transient, and never really to be pinned down for very long.

Corned beef is Irish, technically, but then again, not very Irish for many Irish families. It is different things to different people and always seen and changed through the lens of our own times, and personal experiences as we look back on it. I know this, of course, on some intellectual level, but I hadn't given corned beef and Saint Paddy's day even the slightest thought. I just accepted. The day was about green, corned beef and that ridiculous overly-large pin that begged people, damn near provoked people, to kiss me.

But it's more complicated and frankly, more human that that, isn't it?

I think I may never use the word authentic to explain anything again, like - let's go to that Japanese place, I hear the food is pretty authentic - but I'm still going to cook a perfectly simple, no frills, boiled dinner for the family on Saint Patricks Day with my own home-corned beef, because - Irish or not - my mother made it a tradition, a simple one that I will pass on to my kids and hope that it gives them a sense of ritual and comfort, the idea that some things in life are steadfast and predictable, coded into our sense of selves.

And maybe someday when Lucy is celebrating in some dark pub on Saint Patrick's Day, she'll think of corned beef and me and order the boiled dinner. And maybe she'll step outside into the cool night and give me a call.

That would be nice.

Now, to deviate away from corned beef for a moment, Cathy and I want to announce some of the best reads and best photos of last month's bacon challenge. We are so enjoying reading all the posts. They are remarkable. Thank you for diving in the way you do. Here are our favs this month:


1. Rabbit meets pork.
A Year Without Groceries

2. It ain’t milkshakes that bring the boys to the yard.
Braise Boil Bake

3. Sauce that makes you think of your wife.
Leave Me The Oink

4. East meets...Bacon.

5. Gorgeous step-by-step bacon photos.
Learn to Preserve

6. A chef remembers his dad.
Bread and Cup

7. Duck Eggs in Pancetta Cups with Porcini Mushrooms and Cheese
Duck and Cake

8. From sourcing to hash browns: Porky Comfort
C Plus C Design

9. Smoker Girl
Diabla's Kitchen

10. Lamb's Brain Terrine Enveloped in Bacon
Inspired By Wolfe

And just for fun and because we missed this last month...Kangaroo Proscuitto from Sydney, Australia
Nic Cooks


Pancetta from Eat Drink RI

Lamb Pancetta from The Paupered Chef

Bacon from That's Some Pig

Miso bacon from Cook Blog

Scratch BLT from Viveksurti



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.


CallieG March 18, 2011
I just put our first attempt at Saurkraut in jars and our first corned beef is on the stove for it's long slow simmer. My house smells like a deli and my mouth is watering! Our son gave us Charcuterie for Christmas and we are excited to work our way through it and do some yummy things!
What J. March 1, 2011
So much to read now! Thanks for a wonderful round-up and a great post on corned beef.
Nic C. March 1, 2011
Great read! The last day of the month is now my second favourite date in the month, coming a close second to the 15th of course! I couldn't wait to get home and read some of the blogs I inevitably missed on the 15th. I don't know how you've managed to read them all, I'm considering going part time at work...
mcs3000 March 1, 2011
Gorgeous post, Kim. Your fam pictures always melt my heart. Great meat-y blog photos too. Can't wait to do this challenge.
MrsWheelbarrow February 28, 2011
I did the same research looking for the corn in corned beef. I came upon one article that attributed it to the salt most often used in the 19th c.- salt crystals the size of corn kernels.