Welcome to the cult of cured meats
I really love corned beef and pastrami. Recently, I have gotten into curing and making my own. It is less difficult than it looks, and the payoff has always been worth the effort. With a few core spices and salts you can turn any plain brisket into world class corned beef or pastrami.
This year I am going to brine my own corn beef and then cook it sous vide style for what will hopefully be a tender, flavorful, life-altering meal.
Before I get into how I’m going to do it, here is some pastrami porn.
This is a shot of some pastrami I recently cured and smoked. The cut looks weird because I actually used short rib not brisket. I still think brisket is the way to go, but the short rib was worth trying.
This is the same pastrami above, in sandwich form (I prefer The Langers #19 style sandwich to the classic NY deli style sandwich with just mustard):
(apologies for my fat thumb)
As a bonus, I used Tartine bread to make a pastrami sandwich one day. My tongue nearly fell off; just too damn good.
I hope you find me pastrami-credible now.
Corned Beef and Pastrami Basics
Typically, brisket is used to make both corned beef and pastrami. If you simply cure the brisket you have corned beef. Corned beef is usually boiled and served when tender. If you take that same cured brisket and cover it with pepper then smoke it, you have pastrami.
So the basic steps are:
- Choose your cut of meat (typically brisket)
- Create a cure and leave the cut of meat in that cure for a few days to a week
- Decide if you want pastrami or corned beef
- For corned beef, wash off the cure and cook the meat
- For pastrami was off the cure and apply pepper and other spices o the outside, smoke at low heat for a long time then steam for at least an hour prior to serving.
How to Cure the Brisket
On to the necessary ingredients for the cure. The only absolutely necessary ingredients for a cure are table salt and special “pink” curing salt. The spices you use to impart flavor are up to you. Here is my lineup for this cure:
Ingredient List (for the spices, there is no exact measurement, I use about a 1/4 cup of each:
- 1-2 Cups table salt
- 1-2 Tablespoons Pink Cure Salt
- Juniper Berries
- Mustard Seeds
As a bonus I sometimes add:
- Bay leaves
- Crushed Red Pepper
- Cinnamon (use sparingly)
I think the most important items are the coriander, mustard seeds and juniper berries. I got these spices from Con Yeager Spices, they had a good collection of cure salts and decent prices. Recently, I’ve found savoryspiceshop.com. They have great prices and some exotic spices.
I like to combine all these spices save the salt and cure salt in a pan. I heat them up to release the aroma. It should fill your house and the mustard seeds will crackle and pop.
Then I reserve about 1/5 of the solid seeds, put those into my pot of boiling water, and grind the rest:
That turns to this:
I then bring all the above ingredients to a boil:
After boiling, remove from heat. Let it cool overnight, now you have your cure.
Brining the meat
The next step is brining your brisket for 7-14 days in the cure.
Make sure that after you take the meat out of the cure that you wash it off to avoid the meat being overly salty. Also, I like to soak the meat in clean fresh water for a few hours prior to cooking the meat. This helps suck out some the additional saltiness.
Preparing to cook the brisket
Once you are done brining take out your brisket out of the bath and pat it dry. I like to add some additional spices on top to impart even more flavor. I decided to trim the fat from this cut simply because there was a lot of it and when you cook sous vide extra fat can be really nasty. The food should have so much flavor on its own that a big flap of fat, instead of imparting more flavor, will ruin the texture of the meat.
Then vacuum seal.
Cooking the Corned Beef Sous Vide Style
My plan is to cook it for 24 hours @ 140°F.
I’ve seen some people recommending that you cook it at 135. Since I’m cooking it for such a long time I want to keep the temperature as low as possible but I also don’t want to keep the meat in the dangerous food safety zone for a full 24 hours.
Since 140 is right on the bottom limit, I’m keeping it there.
After your meat is done cooking, remove it and serve immediately. I recommend some red potatoes and cabbage to go with.
I ended up cooking the corned beef for 36 hours at 141 degrees Fahrenheit. I also cooked another corned beef brisket by boiling it–the traditional way. The difference was night and day. The 36-hour-sous-vide brisket was more tender and much much more flavorful.
The biggest difference however, was the flavor of the meat, due to the home-curing process. I highly recommend you cure your own brisket. Simply using the spices above will result in a flavorful and fantastic corned beef.