This month’s charcutepalooza challenge was to use the technique of brining. Brining infuses flavor, adds moisture, and tenderizes the cut that you are using. I chose brisket, to end up with corned beef. An easy brine is made with water, salt, sugar, pink salt, garlic, and pickling spice. The brisket is placed in the brine for 5 days. Then it is simmered for 3 hours, and magically, you have corned beef. It is amazing how a boring and flavorless cut of meat turns wonderfully tender, and you can really pick up the aromas of the allspice, cinnamon, bay leaves, cloves and ginger from the pickling spice in the brine. I really like Ruhlman’s recipe for pickling spice because it is not as heavy on bay leaves as others, and the ratio of the other aromatics is just right. I crushed dried chilies into my pickling spice, so my corned beef was slightly more spicy than the stuff I’ve tasted before. I absolutely loved that.
Once you have corned beef, there is a world of possibilities. The very first thing I made was corned beef hash. You cook some potatoes, onions, mushrooms, red bell peppers, and thinly cut corned beef in olive oil in a a cast iron skillet until the potatoes are cooked through, browned, and crispy. You sprinkle the hash with chopped flat leaf parsley, and top this delicious hash with a fried egg. Simple to make for any meal, breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
For a quick snack, I filled some store-bought empanada wrappers for baked empanadas. These come already cut in medium-sized disks, and once baked you get perfectly flaky dough. The filling was a simple mixture of chopped corned beef, hard-boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, raisins, and olives. You crimp the edges with a fork, brush with egg wash, and bake these according to the package directions. I had some home-made chimichurri sauce, so I used that as a dipping sauce for the empanadas.
I usually make these empanadas with ground beef, but the corned beef brought a really earthy aroma and sweetness from the cinnamon and allspice in the pickling spice.
I haven’t yet told you why I wanted to make corned beef, really only for one reason: to make Reubens. I love Reubens and had never made them at home before. For this sandwich you need: rye bread, corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing. After putting a lot of time and effort into making corned beef at home I really wanted all the other ingredients to be the best and home-made if possible. I thought about making the sauerkraut, but ended up getting a jar of my favorite brand.
I did make Russian dressing with a recipe from Charcuterie. I’m so glad I made a lot of it. It’s great on cold shrimp, hard boiled eggs, and essential in Reubens.
Having good rye bread is also really important in the making of a good Reuben. I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I was hesitant to make it, and was so afraid of failing. But the second I saw the sponge for the bread bubbling away I was so very happy and knew it would turn out great.
I know this is supposed to be all about corned beef, but this is one of my proudest kitchen moments:
Finally, to construct the sandwich:
1. Butter the outside part of 2 slices of bread, and spread 1 tablespoon of Russian dressing on the side destined for the inside.
2. On one slice, layer 2 slices of Swiss cheese, 1/4 cup of sauerkraut, and a heap of very thinly sliced corned beef. Place the other slice on top.
3. Place sandwich on a skillet, and brown on both sides. Weight the sandwich down with a heavy pot to ensure it browns well. Cut in half and enjoy.