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How to Make Salt Beef and Corned Beef

December 2, 2014

Corned Beef

When I ate corned beef as a kid, it was the stuff that came in tins, set with a sheen of white fat, and I’ve often wondered what a decent home made version would be like, if such a thing could exist. I decided to have a bash, then, at making my own salt beef and corned beef at home.

Often, when I’m buying a salt beef sandwich at, say, Selfridge’s Brass Rail, I watch them slicing that big, wobbly pink hunk and always think, ‘I wish I had all of that to myself’. It was kind of daunting though, the idea of making it. Can we really eat it all? What if it goes off and poisons everyone?

Well neither of those things happened, and it is genuinely easy, so long as you plan it properly to start off with. All you need (apart from the actual ingredients, obviously) is space to brine the brisket, time to let it happen, and then the means to cook it afterwards. I didn’t think that last bit through properly, but I’ll get to that.

First you need to buy the beef brisket. I got mine directly from Smithfields, which is obviously a LOT cheaper than buying from a butcher. This is how I ended up with a 3kg monster in my fridge. Thankfully it did fit, since my fridge is the size of a small cottage but if you have a normal sized appliance then you can keep it submerged in a non-reactive bucket or tub (nothing made from copper, aluminium, cast iron or brass) in a cool place. Apparently. I’d rather keep it in the fridge.

Secondly you need to work out how to brine the thing. Salt beef comes out pink because either saltpetre or curing powder is added to the brine. If this isn’t added, it will come out a sort of manky grey colour, which isn’t very appetising. I found it quite hard to work out what to use from the advice online so let me lay it down for you here. Saltpetre isn’t used any more really because of health concerns so just forget that. What you want for this job is something called ‘Prague Powder No.1′ which is readily available online. It’s still poisonous though, so you need to get the amount right. I was too scared to do this so I asked my friend Lap and he told me what to do. Thank you, Lap. I then chucked in spices and flavours as I fancied. Once it’s in the brine, you leave it for a week, turning every day.

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Fresh from the brine

After this time, you need to cook that beast. If you were to rub it with spices and smoke it, it would become pastrami. Salt beef is simmered. This is where I screwed up because I forgot – I’m not entirely sure how since it’s such an inconvenience – but I forgot, that my gas hob is broken and I’m currently using a portable induction hob. This caused problems because the pan I had intended to cook the beef in would not work on the induction hob. I had to therefore use two induction compatible pans, and cut the brisket in half. Problem solved? No. They still didn’t fit. I stressed. I fretted. I moaned on Twitter and received some great advice from Tim who suggested using an induction pan as a conductor and sitting the giant pan inside it. I did that, then he noticed my conductor pan was non-stick, before I’d noticed the kitchen was filling with an unpleasant plastic smell…look just make sure your pan is big enough yeah?

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Ready for simmering

The brisket finally cooked after 7 long hours, during which I boomeranged back and forth to the kitchen, adjusting the heat and turning the meat over and over but then…oh man is it worth it for the results. My very own wobbly hunk! And all with lovely big pieces of fat still clinging to the outside. At this point you must eat some, obviously, and then you must put some inside a bagel or rye bread with mustard and eat with a pickle alongside.

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Hey, baby

If you want to carry on and make corned beef, then you want to set some aside for that, and I heartily recommend that you do. Remember, British readers, the tinned corned beef of your childhood? Well this is that but about 10 times tastier. It’s basically chopped salt beef which is set in melted butter. Yes. This, in a sandwich, with Branston and a bit of extra butter for good measure is like the lunchbox of dreams.

Corned Beef

Corned Beef

Corned Beef

Huge thanks to Lap-fai Lee for his advice on ratios in this recipe.

For the brine

330g salt
300ml vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
36g Prague Powder No.1
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
5 black peppercorns
Large pinch of mustard seeds
3 bay leaves
4 allspice berries
1 dried chilli
2 cloves

For simmering

1 carrot
2 sticks celery
2 bay leaves
2 onions

For the corned beef

Unsalted butter

Heat all the brine ingredients in a pan with 2.75 litres of water until it comes to a boil. Turn it off and allow to cool. Place the brisket and brine in a tub, making sure it is completely submerged. You may need to weigh it down. Leave this in the fridge for 7-10 days.

After this time rinse the beef briefly and pat it dry. Put into a pot with the vegetables and simmer for about 6-8 hours, until a knife sinks into it like its butter. Remove from the pot and eat some while still warm. Save half for the corned beef.

To make the corned beef, chop half of the brisket finely and melt some butter. You will need just enough to bind it together. Line a loaf tin with cling film and pack it in. Fold the film over the top and allow to set overnight in the fridge. Slice thickly and pile into sandwiches.

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35 Comments

  • Reply Food Urchin December 2, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Considering that you didn’t seem to have the right pans, equipment, cooker, or kitchen even for this project; the fact that you got there is testimony to your resilience and patience.

    GOOD WORK HELEN!

    • Helen
      Reply Helen December 2, 2014 at 5:27 pm

      Thanks Power Bald! I guess I couldn’t really give up once I’d started but…actually scrap that I’m taking that compliment

  • Reply siepert December 2, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    lap and you thrown together are basically as seminal as ike and tina, but without the domestic violence. power mates!

    • Helen
      Reply Helen December 2, 2014 at 9:37 pm

      HA HA. That’s brilliant. For a millisecond I thought you’d said ‘pike and tuna’. Food brain. I now want to listen to some Tina ‘wooowoooah what’s lurve got to do, got to do with it’

      • Reply siepert December 2, 2014 at 9:49 pm

        “what’s lard got to do with it?” #foodbrain

        • Helen
          Reply Helen December 2, 2014 at 10:03 pm

          Answer: everything, always

      • Reply Lap December 3, 2014 at 12:15 am

        Huhhuh Florian said seminal.

        Nice beef Helen, try it with cheeks sometime. Theyre great to portion up for the freezer. You’ll never be caught short for Reuben sandwich.

        • Helen
          Reply Helen December 3, 2014 at 1:23 pm

          Thanks Lap, that’s a great idea! I never even thought of that. You are a genius.

  • Reply Alicia (foodycat) December 3, 2014 at 9:24 am

    I was planning on doing salt beef for Christmas, but this has just confirmed it! Yum!

    • Helen
      Reply Helen December 3, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      Wahey! Let me know how it goes Alicia.

      • Reply Alicia (foodycat) December 4, 2014 at 10:38 am

        I’ve used Diana Henry’s recipe the last couple of times I’ve made it (I still use saltpetre…) and it always works well.

        • Helen
          Reply Helen December 4, 2014 at 5:45 pm

          Diana Henry is a legend. I’m still mildly confused about the saltpetre…

  • Reply Ian December 3, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Hi Helen,
    Are these quantities for the brine for the 3 Kg behemoth you cooked ?
    I’m more likely to find a 1Kg ish brisket at the butcher, so would a third of the marinade ingredients be ok ?

    It looks fantastic so will have to give it a try for the upcoming festivities..

    • Helen
      Reply Helen December 3, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      Hi Ian, yes they are the quantities for 3kg so just divide the ingredients accordingly.

      • Reply Mark February 5, 2015 at 2:03 pm

        It is not the volume of the brine that matters it is the concentrations ie the ratios or % that are important. So if you half the amount of liquid half the amount of salt etc. I am a bit of a nutter when it comes to curing etc. I use. grams for everything eg pepper. That way I get consistency.. This recipe works well because the important ingredients the salt and the cure and liquid are in grams or easy to convert to grams.The other ingredients an extra bit here or there don’t matter. You know 300 mls of water weighs 300g, the vinegar is not quite 1 ml = 1g, but it is close enough that it does not matter.can If you see a recipe that says half a cup of salt, 1 teaspoon of cure (cure No 1 or Prague powder number 1) think hard and fast because half a cup of sea salt flakes and half a cup of salt crystals would provide a vastly different brine concentration. The salt concentration used will influence the amount of time the meat is cured.

        • Reply Senga March 8, 2017 at 5:34 pm

          I’m a sad bastard as well, so thanks for this.It makes sense!

  • Reply Catherine December 3, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    I must be really pedestrian because I like Branston with cheese in a sandwich with some crisps on the side.
    And I like salt beef with mustard and a dill pickle.
    Yours ludditeishly………

    • Helen
      Reply Helen December 3, 2014 at 1:24 pm

      Catherine – sorry I don’t get what you mean? Didn’t I suggest in the post eating the salt beef with mustard and a dill pickle? Also, what is luddite about eating Branston with cheese? It’s a classic. Sorry I’m really confused!

  • Reply Lizzie December 8, 2014 at 12:12 am

    OOOH SNAZZY NEW WEBSITE!!!

    That looks amazing. If it’s ok with you though I’ll just come round for salt beef sandwiches, yeah? And if you could sort us a corned beef hash with a fried egg on top that’d be super.

    • Helen
      Reply Helen December 8, 2014 at 1:42 pm

      No probs babe, ready in ten x

  • Reply robbobnbill December 16, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    Hi Helen

    Does it matter what type of salt the the 330g of salt is as planning to have this on new years day, guessing table salt will be saltier than coarse salt for the same weight, what salt did you use?

    Cheers

    • Helen
      Reply Helen December 17, 2014 at 11:15 am

      Hi Rob,

      I used sea salt, although I’m not sure it matters.

      • Reply robbobnbill December 19, 2014 at 9:04 pm

        Thanks Helen ill let you know how i get on 🙂

  • Reply Mark February 5, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    At last a corned beef recipe that works. I threw in a couple of pork trotters (needed to be used up) that had been sitting in the freezer for a while.during the poaching stage. These provided enough gelatin to hold the corned beef together. to provide a denser texture I put another loaf tin on top and weighed it down using a couple of tins of baked beans. Thank you so much for the posting….

    • Helen
      Reply Helen February 5, 2015 at 2:06 pm

      LOVE the trotter idea! Brilliant.

  • Reply Mark February 5, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    I forgot to mention that I cut up the brisket into bits and cooked it in my slow cooker. That way I was able to leave it to its own devices.

  • Reply Mick February 14, 2015 at 4:52 am

    Vinegar in the brine. Never seen that before.

  • Reply Mick1888 June 17, 2015 at 11:12 am

    Thanks for the recipe. I have used the Diane Henry recipe a couple of times and the beef always turned out the manky grey colour you mentioned. Now I have decided to try the Prague Powder No1 recipe above (vinegar and all). So Here goes!!! Only one bit of further advice needed – Should I keep the brisket tied and rolled or open it up when its curing? Cheers .

    • Helen
      Reply Helen June 17, 2015 at 11:34 am

      Hey Mick. Um, I would unwrap it from the string, to make sure the cure gets to every bit of the meat. let me know how it turns out! H

      • Reply Mick1888 June 17, 2015 at 11:48 am

        excellent… the brine is now cooling so will update the forum in 2 weeks… Ta

  • Reply alex April 30, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    I hope I’m not being really stupid here, but hasn’t the recipe bit disappeared ?

    Alex

  • Reply John May 5, 2018 at 12:19 am

    I too have been looking for a way to make English corned beef and I think you’ve done a good job, but I would make one change.

    I think the consistency of your “tinned” corned beef just doesn’t hold together enough. I’m planning on getting ham maker, they’re quite cheap, and it acts like a ban marie to slow cook the ham.

    I think the way to go is to chop up the beef after brining and cook it that way in the ham maker. Because it’s a slow cook it releases the fat and it should form a casing to hold it all together.

    If that’s too dry after brining maybe the beef could be simmered, but for half the time, then put in the ham maker.

    Really enjoyed this article, thank you for posting it.

    • Helen Graves
      Reply Helen Graves May 5, 2018 at 6:24 pm

      Interesting… let me know how you get on! I actually rather enjoy the crumbly texture 🙂

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