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DIY corned beef requires lots of time, a good brine

By Betty Shimabukuro

LAST UPDATED: 02:27 p.m. HST, Mar 19, 2014

An advantage of planning ahead: You can corn your own beef for St. Patrick's Day.

I tell you this now, weeks before the day, so you can get your affairs in order. You're going to need a big hunk o' beef, some seasonings and close to a week for brining. The exact amount of time all this will take depends on how important the color pink is to your corned-beef experience.

The ingredient list is deceptively short: a 3- to 5-pound beef brisket, salt, spices, water. (No corn. The "corned" in corned beef refers to the kernels of salt used to cure the meat.)

But there's a complication. The corned beef we're used to is pink whether deli-sliced or a preseasoned supermarket brisket simmered at home thanks to the preservative sodium nitrate. Most recipes for corned beef include curing salt (sometimes called pink salt), which is about 6 percent sodium nitrate. The additive also intensifies flavor. Without it your corned beef will look like any pot roast brown.

Curing salt is difficult to find locally; your best bet is to order it from an online source (Amazon sells several brands). An alternative is Morton's Tender Quick, with 0.5 percent sodium nitrate and another 0.5 percent of the related chemical sodium nitrite. Tender Quick is available in very few Oahu markets. I found it at Pacific Supermarket in Waipahu.

The next complication is the meat itself. Boneless brisket is not found in all supermarkets, and those that do carry it tend to cut it into small pieces. Your best bet is to shop early in the day and ask for a large piece. Higa Meat and Pork Market carries 10-pound pieces. The alternative is beef chuck easier to find in large pieces and a leaner cut.

Then you'll need seasonings. Premixed pickling spice can be found in supermarkets, or go to a place that sells bulk spices (Down to Earth, for example) and buy just what you need.

This process only needs to be as complicated as you want it to be. To hurry things along, go with beef chuck and without sodium nitrate. Settle for a brown brisket.

OK, preliminaries completed, we can brine.

Now your choices are wet or dry. Wet means to sink the meat into a brine; dry is to rub salt and spices into the meat. Either way, you let the meat cure in your refrigerator for five to seven days.

I cured several briskets and a couple of chucks, with wet and dry brines, with Tender Quick and without. All turned out well, although the Tender Quick versions were considerably saltier. The meat needed a post-brining soak in clean water, then a good rinse to temper the saltiness before cooking.

Once your meat is brined, you have other choices: simmer or bake, stove or slow-cooker. And then: corned beef and cabbage, corned beef hash, corned beef sandwiches

So many possibilities. It would be a shame to do this only in honor of St. Patrick.

Don Maruyama, a chef-instructor at Leeward Community College, teaches his students to make corned beef every semester in garde manger classes (garde manger is the part of the kitchen that deals in cold foods such as sandwiches).

The students brined several briskets last month, destined to become corned beef (when simmered) or pastrami (smoked). The meat is served in sandwiches in the LCC cafeteria, Ulu­wehi Cafe.

The wet brine recipe is based on his, modified with input from other recipes that are more for home use, as he cures 40 pounds of meat at a time. The dry brine is based on Morton’s suggested use of Tender Quick.


4-5 pound boneless beef brisket or chuck roast
>> Brine:
1 gallon water
2 cups kosher salt or 1 cup table salt (see note)
1-1/2 tablespoons curing salt (optional)
1/4 cup corn syrup or 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon pickling spices

Combine brine ingredients in pot and bring to boil to dissolve salt; let cool to room temperature. Or put 1 cup of the water in blender with sugar and spices and blend until smooth; add mixture to remaining water.

Place brisket and brine in large container; weigh down meat with a plate to keep it submerged. Cover and refrigerate 5 to 7 days.

Note: 1-1/2 cups Morton’s Tender Quick meat cure can be used instead of the salt and curing salt.

>> Dry brine:
1/2 cup kosher salt or 5 tablespoons Morton’s Tender Quick meat cure
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon EACH ground paprika, allspice, thyme, garlic powder and crushed bay leaves

Use a skewer to puncture brisket all around, to allow spices to penetrate.

Combine salt, sugar and spices. Rub well into meat. Seal in plastic bag. Place between 2 cookie sheets with a weight such as 2 cans of beans on top to compress. Refrigerate 5 days if using Tender Quick or 7 days if not.

Cooking your corned beef

Remove brisket from brine. If you used curing salt, rinse. If you used Tender Quick, soak in fresh water a couple of hours, then rinse well. If you used neither, do not rinse, as the flavor will be much milder.

Carrots and small whole potatoes can be cooked along with the beef. Shredded cabbage may be cooked in the simmering liquid after beef is removed.

>> Stovetop: Place in large pot with water to cover. Bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer 3-4 hours, until very tender.

>> Oven: Place in baking pan and cover with foil (do not add water). For added flavor, spread beef with mustard and/or a fruit jelly. Bake at 325 degrees 3-4 hours.

>> Slow-cooker: Cook with or without water 10-12 hours on low.

Nutritional information unavailable.

Note: If your cooked corned beef emerges too salty, it is salvageable. Slice the meat and rinse it, then drain well. Serving it cold also mellows the saltiness.

Write “By Request,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, Honolulu 96813; or email requests to bshimabukuro@staradvertiser.com.

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