About a dozen days ago I stood across the counter from owner Paul Kozey at Walt’s Food Market in Old Saybrook and asked for a whole flat-cut brisket — the relatively lean portion with the familiar boxy shape separated from the odd-shaped point.
Walt’s is a mid-century throwback, a familiar sort of small grocery on the Main Street with the meat counter in the back and groceries up front. A steady traffic of locals buys sandwiches, maybe the best in the area, roasts and prepared food.
Kozey stepped into the back and brought out a few choices — none of them newfangled, dry-aged or grass-fed, but nicely-marbled Black Angus. I bought an untrimmed nine-pound brisket as is, a deal at a little over forty dollars.
I take the holidays as they come — turkey and pie on Thanksgiving, roast lamb or country ham on Easter, New England boiled dinner for St. Patrick’s — their hurdles and handicaps an opportunity to give back to friends an idealized version of the remembered holidays, with better ingredients, refined recipes, improved technique.
This year I settled on home-cured corned beef — a very easy way to liven the holiday — and easily the best corned beef you will have ever eaten.
At home, I trimmed away the hard fat cap, and rubbed the brisket with a dry cure of salt, prague powder #1 and sugar, black pepper, ground ginger, clove, coriander seed, mustard seed, crushed allspice, bay leaf, and crushed garlic — the sort of dry brine that has supplanted traditional salt and water solutions for juicier roast chicken, and a deeper, undiluted flavor.
Once bagged — I used a foodsaver — I placed the brisket on a shelf in the refrigerator and for 10 days or so I flipped the meat daily — and that’s it.
Yesterday, I sliced open the bag, thoroughly rinsed the brisket, and tested a small slice — fried up briefly in a skillet — for saltiness and flavor.
Too salty, and it’s possible to soak the meat in water for a few hours, or compensate in the cooking process — whether you choose to steam the brisket like a New York delicatessen, poach it in simmering water like a traditional boiled dinner, or sous vide it for 10 hours at 180F. I chose the latter.
With carrots, cabbage, onions and potatoes cooked in the leftover liquid, the perfect holiday dinner.
A Recipe for Homemade Corned Beef
- 1 9-pound beef brisket, trimmed
- 6 ounces kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons Prague Powder #1
- 2 ounces brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons mustard seed
- 3 tablespoons coriander seed
- 4 allspice berries, crushed
- 6 whole cloves
- 2 tablespoons ground ginger
- 5 fresh bay leaves, crushed
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed.
- 3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
Adjust the spicing to taste. Combine ingredients for the dry brine in a small bowl. On a shallow baking tray rub the brisket on all sides to coat. Bag the brisket, seal, and flip once or twice daily for about 10 days.
Prior to using, after 10 days, rinse away the salt, and cook using your favorite recipe.