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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Home Cured Corned Beef Brisket

Next week will be Saint Patrick's Day and for the first time since we've been in Costa Rica, we have a corned beef brisket ready to cook to celebrate this American Irish holiday. I had been hungry for some corned beef brisket for a few years now and decided a couple of weeks ago we really needed to try our hand at making a brine and home curing a brisket. This is amazingly easy if you have 10 days of preparation time. This is not something you decide to make from one day to the next.

The first challenge was to locate all the spices I would need for the brine solution. I had enough Prague Powder #1 (InstaCure Pink Salt) on hand that our daughter had brought from the States, so I just needed to track down the rest of the spices. It turned out most of the ingredients can be found at our local spice vendor's booth at our Feria (Farmers' Market) every Friday morning. I was able to find a couple of the spices he didn't carry at the Mercado Central (central market) in Alajuela, including a new local source for the Prague Powder #1, called "Sal de Cura" at vendor booth #34. The only spice I couldn't locate was juniper berry. With just a little research I found sprigs of Rosemary make an acceptable substitute, and the Rosemary will impart the same earthy pine flavor and scent as a juniper berry.

If you have the time to brine, and you're ready to try your hand a making a home-cured corned beef brisket, here's how to do it.


Spice Mix:
4 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces (canela)
1 tablespoon mustard seeds (semillas de mostaza)
1 tablespoon black peppercorns (granos de pimienta negra)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds (semilla de culantro)
2 teaspoons Star Anise (estrellas de anís)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (hojuelas de chili rojo)
24 whole cloves (clavo de olor)
24 whole allspice berries (granos de Jamaica)
24 whole juniper berries or 8 sprigs of rosemary (ramitas de romero)
6 bay leaves, crumbled (hojas de laurel)

Thoroughly mix all the spices together and store in an airtight jar.

Corned Beef Brine:
3 quarts of water
1½ cup kosher salt (we use swimming pool salt because it is pure with no iodine or fluoride)
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 ounces Prague Insta-Cure #1 (by weight, not by volume) (Sal de Cura)
5 tablespoons of Spice Mix
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger (jengibre molido)
4 sliced cloves of garlic (optional) (clavos de ajo)
2 pounds ice
1 (6 to 7 pound) beef brisket, trimmed (pecho entero)


Curing the Meat:
Place the water into a large 6 to 8-quart stockpot along with salt, sugar, Prague powder, and all the spices. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the ice. Stir until the ice has melted. If necessary, place the brine into the refrigerator until it reaches a temperature of 45 degrees F. Once it has cooled, place the brisket in a 2-gallon container (or zip-top bag) and add the brine. Seal the container, and refrigerate for 10 days. Check daily to make sure the beef is completely submerged, turn it over as necessary and stir the brine.2. After 10 days, remove from the brine and rinse well under cool water and remove the old spices. Put the corned beef in a pot slightly larger than the meat and cover it with cold water. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours in order to remove excess salt from the meat. If you can change the water once or twice.

There are two cooking methods you can use to finish the Corned Beef: A Stovetop or Sous Vide method with an Immersion Circulator.

When you are ready to cook, place the brisket into a pot just large enough to hold the meat, cover with water, bring to a boil and reduce to low for 30 minutes to remove the salt. Pour off all the salty water, add the onion, carrot, and celery and cover with water by 1-inch. If you like additional spice, add 1 tablespoon of the leftover mix. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and gently simmer for 2½ to 3 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender. If you want, you can add cabbage and potatoes during the last 45 minutes of cooking. Remove from the pot and thinly slice across the grain.

Prepare sous vide immersion circulator and set the water temperature for 80°C/175°F.

Remove the desalinated corned beef from the pot and place it in a gallon-size sealable freezer bag. 

Carefully submerge the freezer bag in the water bath until most of the air has been removed and then seal the bag. 

Once the bag is submerged, cook the corned beef for 10 hours.

Fill a large container with a 50/50 mix of ice and water. Place the bag of cooked corned beef in the ice water for 30 to 60 minutes to quickly reduce the meat's core temperature to 34 to 38ºF. Place the meat in the refrigerator until ready to slice (up to two days ahead of time). When ready to serve, thinly slice the corned beef across the grain.

(Modified from Alton Brown’s recipe on the Food Network, 2007)

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