For St. Patrick’s Day we had corned beef and cabbage. Not the stinky slow cooker pot of meat and mushy vegetables, but some awesome home-cured perfectly cooked beef with “The Best” Colcannon. making corned beef from scratch is time consuming but pretty easy to do. I used the recipe and process from ChefSteps.com and it all starts with the brisket. I trimmed it a bit and left about a 1/4 inch fat on the beef. The process is very similar to pastrami, really identical except for the smoke part.
I made a brine with water, sugar, salt and a boat load of spices (coriander, mace, bay, star anise…) The cure also has pink salt or cure #1 which is Sodium Nitrite. This is essential for the proper color and flavor of cured products like corned beef. The brisket sat in the brine for about a week. Really 9 days would have been better since it had a very small dime size center piece that the cure did not get to in time, but I wanted to cook it for St. Patrick’s weekend so it got rubbed with more spices and into a vacuum bag it went.
I cooked it at 63 C for 48 hours. The brisket, roughly half of a full one actually, was too big. So, I had it bagged in two bags and cooked them both. That was a good idea because now I have a nice ready to eat corned beef chunk in the freezer. I had two options for serving the beef, a classic Reuben sandwich with Russian dressing, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on homemade rye bread. The other option was with a nice helping of Colcannon.
Colcannon is a traditional humble Irish dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage. I like most versions, even those that have the whole thing mixed together into a lovely mess. This time I tried Letie’s Culinaria Best Colcannon recipe, adapted from the book, Victuals by Ronni Lundy. Judging by this recipe I might have to get me a copy of Lundy’s book.
The red potatoes are cooked separately and mashed skin on with butter and cream. Where the recipe shines is with the cabbage and the addition of kale. They are cooked with plenty of onions, butter, spices, beer and broth until perfectly cooked. To serve, I mounded the potatoes in a bowl and topped it with the cabbage mixture. Thick slices of moist corned beef went on top and a pint of Guinness stout on the side. A perfect and comforting dinner.
Much has been written in the blogsphere about the MC pastrami made from short rib or even better, beef cheek. Just Google it and you’ll get a lot of hits and pictures. The attention is rightfully deserved since their process produces one delicious tasting piece of cured and smoked beef. When done right, Pastrami is one of the tastiest cured meat products at American delis. The idea is to take a tough and a little fatty piece of beef (usually a brisket) and first soak it in a curing brine of salt, sugar, curing salt and a host of pickling spices. Up to this point it is not much different from corned beef. Just take it out of the brine and simmer it for a few hours and you got exactly that – corned beef. For Pastrami though, the next step is to roll the meat in a lot of spices (black pepper, coriander, celery seeds, juniper,..) and then smoking it for hours until cooked tender but not falling apart. We are still not ready to slice it though. The meat still has to go into the steamer to get an amazing unctuous and juicy texture. Now it’s sliced thinly and served piled high on rye bread.
For the modernist version, the essential steps are still there, but the bulk of the actual cooking and softening the meat is done by cooking it sous vide. After the meat, brisket in my case, is brine-cured I rolled it in the spice mixture and then cold-smoked it for a few hours. To cook the meat I put it in a FoodSaver bag with some of the brine liquid (that was boiled and cooled) and then it went into the water with the immersion circulator set to 60 C for 72 hours. This cooking process is pretty much the same one that the MC team uses for their barbecue recipes: season/brine, cold smoke and then cook SV (I posted about this a while back here).
Anyone who has seen Woody Allen’s great film Annie Hall knows that proper pastrami needs no add-ons. Poor Alvy (Allen’s character) almost has a seizure when Annie ordered her pastrami on white bread with mayo, mustard, lettuce and tomatoes! So, I served our delicious tender pastrami on homemade rye with a little mustard and sauerkraut. However, I can only have so many pastrami on rye sandwiches. So, traditional or not, I served more of the smoked meat on top 0f rye bread topped with avocado and pickled mustard seeds. Either way, it was delicious.
As opposed to the cooked pastrami, Bresaola is beef that is not cooked at all. I’ve mentioned this cured meat a couple of times before (here for example). This one from the MC books uses a cure with lots of ground coffee in it. They serve it sliced thinly with a sauce made from fermented black garlic (I used pressure cooked garlic confit instead) and balsamic vinegar. I was intrigued by the coffee in the cure…lots of it too. So I gave it a shot to see how it works out. When all said and done, I am not sure I love the coffee in there, especially if I am serving the cured meat by itself. On the other hand it really works well in the plated dish with the sauce, the sliced celery and some sharp greens.
Salmon was the first meat I ever salt cured back when I got Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie. It’s one of the easiest of the cured meats because it requires little investment and very little time compared to a Bresaola or a cured fermented sausage like salami. Basically all you do is rub a salmon fillet with a mixture of salt, some sugar, aromatics and maybe a few tablespoons of vodka or another alcohol. You let it sit for 24 to 48 hours in the fridge and then wipe away all the cure ingredients and pat it dry. Now it is ready to go as is, basically a gravadlax, sliced thin on a bagel or some rye bread. Another option is to maybe smoke it (cold or hot) after it is cured. Diana loves it hot smoked quickly till cooked (I use my wok for that) and served with a simple slaw, crostini and a sour cream/mayo sauce. Yet another way to take the cured salmon to the next level is to brush it with a glaze of molasses and sprinkle it with a mixture of caraway, pepper and coriander. This makes a unique pastrami salmon!
This time around, I borrowed an idea from Jamie Oliver where he cures salmon using a mixture that includes beets and horseradish. The fish had that crazy funky red color from the beets when he prepared it and it just sounded like a good idea. To actually prepare it though I used the proportions from a Grapefruit-Cured Salmon in the Modernist Cuisine books. They use grapefruit zest, lemon zest and juniper. I just eliminated the grapefruit and kept the lemon and juniper. The copper river salmon I used had an amazing color when done curing and all the flavors worked great. I could taste everything, from the citrus zest to the earthy beets.
We ate it for dinner and/or work lunch over about a week period. One way I served it was with some quick lemon-marinated zucchini and red onions. For this dish I made a sauce from pureed chives, cucumbers, yogurt and sour cream.
For another quick dinner I topped home-baked rye bread with the salmon, added some pickled pearl onions and drizzled with whatever was left of that cucumber-chive-yogurt sauce.
I make a lot of fresh sausage on a regular basis, but rarely do I make a dry cured fermented sausage. That’s primarily because I do not have a proper curing chamber that maintains a steady temperature and a high humidity level. Most amateur cooks who dabble with fermented sausages use an old fridge equipped with a humidifier for humidity. As my dear wife constantly reminds me, I already have too many hobbies and too many gadgets. So I do not think a suped-up curing fridge is in my near future. This recipe is courtesy of Jason Molinari from his great Cured Meats blog.
The idea behind making fermented sausages is not that different than making beer or even bread. You mix the meat with spices and any other flavorings, then you add a “starter” and mix well. The starter is analogous to the yeast added to wort to make beer. It’s a live culture that can be bought online from sausage making suppliers. The mixture is stuffed into casings and allowed to ferment at about 70 F. During that time the starter culture grows and in the process makes the mixture acidic. This gives the salami the characteristic tangy flavor and the acidity controls the growth of any undesirable bacteria. Nex,t the sausages need to sit in the curing chamber to dry evenly and age. Ideally they need be at 55 F or so and the humidity should be about 65%. Lacking a curing chamber, I had the sausages in my garage fridge. The temperature in there is much lower (need to keep my beer cold afterall) and I control the humidity around the sausages by using a large (2.5 gallon) plastic ziploc bag. When the sausages loose about 25-30% of their original weight, they are ready to eat.
These came out perfect, with a nice tight texture and no air pockets. The flavor was tangy and porky with not too much garlic or spice. I need to make more salami!
Well, Houston was not as lucky with IKE as it was with Gustav a few weeks ago. The storm hit us pretty hard as a very strong Category 2 Hurricane. The island of Galveston took the brunt of the storm, but even inland Houston suffered considerable damage. Some parts of the city still have no power today! We were lucky that our house suffered very minor damage. The problem was that we had no power for over a week and a fridge and freezer full of food. Foods, like pounds of homemade sausage, a few quarts of stock, vegetables, meats and sauces. All that was gone, and it was a pretty damn sad loss.
However, not all was lost thanks to old fashioned food preservation methods. I was very gald to come back and find the Bresaola I had been curing and dry aging for about a month was covered in a fine powdery mold. In case you are wondering, yes, that’s good. Now if it was green and fuzzy, then it would have gone to the trash. This was the best tasting Bresaola I have ever had. I sliced it as thinly as possible and shared it with some family members who were a big source of help during the last week.
Another survivor was the batch of confit I made right before the hurricane. The legs of duck and a few sausages were perfectly preserved under a couple of inches of duck fat. I cooked a leg and sausage for dinner a day after we returned. I served it with potatoes sauteed in a couple of tablespoons of the flavorful fat. All I was missing was a glass of wine. I sure would’ve raised one to the gods of curing, salting, dry aging and preserving food.