Quick-Brined Corned Beef Sandwiches
- Prep time 72 hours
- Cook time 3 hours 10 minutes
- Serves 6 to 8
I’m Irish-American and grew up in a town with a large demographic of Irish descendants. We had an Irish festival in our town that my parents would bring me to every year as a kid. We’d watch step-dancing competitions, buy Celtic trinkets from vendors, and eat corned beef sandwiches on rye (my favorite part).
For St. Patrick’s Day, my mother would boil a large pot of peeled potatoes, quartered heads of green cabbage, and enough corned beef to make a boiled dinner, sandwiches, and hash the next few days for breakfast for our family. I always loved this time because my father was in charge of making the hash, and I’d sit in the kitchen and talk with him while he cooked. He taught me to always leave it in the pan far longer than you would think to make sure you get the best browned crunchy edges.
I lived most of my life thinking corned beef was as Irish a dish as they come, but I learned later on while living in NYC that corned beef is actually a dish that early Irish settlers learned from living in the same neighborhoods as Jewish immigrants. Having grown up eating far too many corned beef sandwiches on rye, and living in NYC over a decade eating corned beef on rye from Jewish delis, you would think I would have come to the conclusion sooner...
So here we are, St. Patrick’s Day is coming up and I want to pay homage to my childhood by making my own corned beef and rye sandwiches, like my mom would make.
Homemade corned beef is certainly not easier to prepare than the option you can buy at the store, but it's most certainly more delicious. Making it at home is not as daunting as it sounds, and I’ve got a few tips to speed up the lengthy brining process which makes corned beef the pink, flavorful, juicy meaty dish we’ve become accustomed to.
If you want to make a traditional corned beef dinner, use 2 pounds halved peeled Yukon gold potatoes, 1 large head of green cabbage, cleaned and quartered with the core removed, and 18 ounces carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks. After you return the brisket to the pot when removing the seasonings, simmer over very low heat for about 45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the potatoes can be pierced with a fork.
*Traditionally the brisket needs to be brined for 10 days to get maximum flavor and tenderization. In my version, I dock or perforate the meat to allow the salt, sugar, and seasonings to penetrate faster and speed up the brining process.
**TCM or pink curing salt should NOT to be confused with pink cooking salt. TCM or pink curing salt contains sodium nitrate and is very dangerous if mishandled and is toxic. You can withhold this from the recipe, but the meat will turn a brown/gray cooked color and won’t stay pink. —Sean Patrick Gallagher
large cinnamon stick
whole allspice berries
whole juniper berries
dried bay leaves, torn into pieces
whole black peppercorns
1 1/2 cups
Diamond Crystal kosher salt
garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
TCM or pink curing salt**
Whole-grain mustard and hearty rye bread, for serving (Swiss cheese and sauerkraut are optional)
- Cut the brisket in half against the grain. Using a sharp tool/skewer/paring knife (I used an oyster knife), make tiny holes in the meat evenly across from side to side for the brine to penetrate easier.
- In a small dry skillet over medium heat, toast the cinnamon, allspice berries, juniper berries, bay leaves, coriander, thyme, and peppercorns, stirring frequently, for 2 to 3 minutes, until warm and toasted, crackling, and jumping from the pan. Transfer the spices to a spice mill or mortar and pestle and coarsely grind.
- Transfer the spices to a large pot. Add the water, salt, sugar, garlic, TCM, and cloves and bring to a boil over high heat. Let boil for 5 minutes to infuse the flavors. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- Place each brisket half in a large freezer safe zip-top bag. Divide the brine between each bag, covering the meat and pushing out any remaining air before sealing. Place in a shallow container and then into the fridge.
- Brine for a minimum of 3 days and up to 5 days, flipping the bag each day to make sure the meat is completely submerged.
- After the brisket has finished brining, remove from the bags and rinse under cold water to remove any excessive salt residue. Strain the brine to remove all of the spices. Rinse the spices under running water.
- Place both pieces of brisket in a large pot and place the rinsed spices on top. Cover with fresh water to completely submerge the brisket.
- Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for about 3 hours, until the brisket is soft and fork-tender. Remove corned beef and remove all seasonings with a slotted spoon. Return the brisket to the pot (if you’re adding potatoes, cabbage, and carrots, now would be the time). Let the beef rest in the warm liquid (heat to a very low simmer if needed) until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 145°F.
- When ready to eat, slice the beef against the grain into thin slices. Keep the slices in the liquid when not eating to stay moist.
- Spread a layer of whole-grain mustard on slices of rye and lay the slices of the warm corned beef on top. Some add Swiss cheese or sauerkraut, but we always just eat it with mustard.
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