brining, charcutepalooza, corned beef, pickling, the year of meat

Charcutepalooza pt. 3: Brine It.

This month’s Charcutepalooza assignment seemed like the easiest one we’d have overall. We were told, using Michael Ruhlman’s ‘Charcuterie‘ book as a guide, to simply brine something. Chicken, duck, beef or what have you–just throw it in your brine for the appropriate amount of time and cook it how you see fit. This was our next step in our lessons on salt and worked to show us how our chosen cut would react to a long bath in a salt water and seasoning medium.

Brining is an easy way to add flavor and moisture into your cut and I’ve done it numerous times with chicken, pork and beef–basically anything I could fit into my gallon sized Tuperware container without taking over my refrigerator.

For me, with this being right before St. Patrick’s Day, there was little doubt that I wanted to use a brisket to make a corned beef boiled dinner. But, I wanted it to be a bit more special and my goal was to have the meal completely composed of Maine grown/raised/procured ingredients. Luckily, even in the last gasps of a long, snowy winter, it wasn’t too hard to gather it all up.


The brisket came from Cold Springs Ranch, in North New Portland, ME, via Whole Foods; the pickling spice was purchased at Rosemont Market on Munjoy in Portland;the cabbage and Potatoes from Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, ME; the side of Jewish Rye Bread was baked in Litchfield, ME at Black Crow Bakery. The only ingredients, though purchased at Whole Foods in Portland, that aren’t Maine made were the butter(for the bread), salt, sugar and pink salt.

The centerpiece, of course, was the beautiful brisket with it’s deep red flesh from it’s grass feeding and lean with just the upper shell of fat across the top. It bathed in juniper berries, clove, cinnamon, chili peppers, mustard, oregano, dried citrus peel, coriander, salt, pink salt, water and sugar for exactly seven days. Half way through the week, though, panic set in as I checked on the progress of the whole experiment. The meat, so striking in the picture above, sat gray in it’s brine.

Gray meat, I don’t have to tell you, is not a pretty sight and I’ve had it before with previous corned beefs I’ve made and, most recently, the tongue(that apparently did traumatize me so much that I can’t stop bringing it up lately). But, this isn’t suppose to happen, right? I mean, isn’t that the whole point of using sodium nitrates to eliminate this meat unsightliness?

I became angry, frustrated and then disappointment. I looked at the recipe in the book 10 times in less than 20 minutes, rechecking the required amount of pink salt. I blamed a possible error on my part as the cause of the gray mass. But, I had it right. In fact, I followed it to the letter and was baffled at what was before me, still lingering in the brine.

I stomped out onto the deck and had a cigarette when, to calm me down and give me some clarity, the Missus reminded me that I had 300+ bloggers I could reach out to for advice and to see if this was happening to anyone else. So, after my ‘chill the f out’ cigarette, I went to bed and logged onto the groups Facebook page when I woke up the next morning and posted:

The following was a conversation I had in my head after reading the posts:
*inhale*
See, this is normal *exhale* *inhale* You’re not the only one. See, everyone using a brisket or tongue is having a bit of gray, too *exhale* With a string of recent cooking/baking fails, I couldn’t take one more long project failing because I had misread something or mishandled ingredients. The admin of the Facebook page was also nice enough to post a picture to prove that they’re all a little gray on the outside. I hadn’t failed, I had only overreacted.

And, thankfully, this one wasn’t a failure. While it was slightly gray on the outside, it was exactly what I had hoped for on the inside: pink and peel away tender. Towards the end of the cooking time I cut the cabbage into eighths and added it to the pot with the corned beef. The potatoes were done in a style that I knew growing up as “salt potatoes.” It’s a style, introduced to me by my mom when I was still living in Albany, where you essentially add several cups of salt to the water you’re adding the potatoes to for boiling. They turned out to be a well chosen side as the brisket, even thought it was more than half the weight recommended for the recipe, had very little saltiness to the meat.


Then, after several hours of a very low simmer, the meat was pulled and set aside for slicing as I plated up everything else.


This Irish girl’s early St. Patrick’s Day tribute to my adopted home was complete and worth every fret and flutter it caused my heart. Thanks to the Charcutepalooza crew that helped to ease my fears and reminded me that one of the huge points of doing this group project is to learn from, and lean on, each other when we need it.

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