Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pickling Spice for Your St. Patrick's Day Corned Beef

I freely confess that I'm neither a Roman Catholic nor Irish.  With that in mind, there is no shame that St. Patrick's Day caught me off-guard once again.  It's not one of those high holy days that I plan for weeks and months in advance.  I used to catch St. Patty's day by watching the grocery store circulars, but now that I buy so many of my groceries either straight from the farm or through organic boxes I frequently miss minor holidays now (and thank heavens that nobody pinches anyone for not wearing green on St Patrick's Day in my homeschool).  It was the weather channel's website that clued me in this year, since they had a special forecast section just for St. Patrick's Day weather.

So my dear husband made a St. Patrick's Day run to the grocery store last night.  I freely confess that the corned beef he picked up wasn't the normal quality of meat that we eat, but nonetheless we bought it anyway.  But filling the crock pot this morning left us with a conundrum.  What about that little seasoning packet that comes along with the meat?  I have very little faith in the processed & packaged food industry and avoid monosodium glutamate, yeast extract, and all of it's other derivatives like the plague.  So what's a mother to do?

We decided to add our own pickling mix to the cheap (and probably toxic) meat that we're cooking up today.  The recipe below makes up just a tiny amount of seasonings, so feel free to scale it up if you're wanting to prepare for more than just a single serving size.

I wasn't fortunate enough to have a time-honored pickling spice recipe handed down in the family, so when I originally went about looking for the perfect spice blend for our family I started by googling at least three recipes.  I started with Simply Canning, Amazing Ribs, and NPR, but it was A Way to Garden that really educated me on how pickling spice worked. 

Corning the Beef

Cuts of meat labeled "corned beef" are brined and fermented in advance.  A better choice (although we passed it up this year) would be to purchase a well-marbled beef brisket or other tough roast.  Rinse the meat and cut it into 2 to 3 inch chunks.  Dissolve 5/8 cup sea salt (not optional) and 1 tablespoon maple syrup or sucanat or Rapadura organic whole cane sugar in a quart of water.  (If you do not plan on using your meat within 10 days add 1-1/4 teaspoons of curing salt.  This contains sodium nitrite which will preserve the meat for longer.  Freeze after curing is complete.)  Pack the meat in a 2-Liter Pickl-It jar.  Cover with brine.  Hold the meat down with a Dunk'R.  Put the airlock on the jar.  Cover the jar with a dish towel or place it in a dark cabinet for 8 hours.  Refrigerate for 7 to 10 days, checking the brine level daily to ensure that the meat stays covered.
Adapted from: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Fermenting Food

When it's time to cook the beef, I add the following vegetables:
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 6 cloves garlic
Then I mix in the following seasonings for every 5 pounds of corned beef:

Pickling Spice

  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seed
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seed
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 2" cinnamon stick, crushed or broken into pieces
This pickling spice can be adapted for pickles, as well as for corned beef.  I like to lower the ginger down to 1 teaspoon and add an additional 2 teaspoons of dill seed or dill weed when making pickles.


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