You can’t talk about corned beef without talking about brining. Brining is a huge opportunity to add an intense amount of flavor and influence the texture to get your desired texture for corned beef. You can do all sorts of things with your brine from sweet to spicy to extra savory. I will talk about my personal recipe for corned beef and why I like to add what I do.
First off a little science behind brine. When brining, essentially what you are doing is causing the protein strands in the meat to unwind. And as they unwind they end up getting tangled with other strands allowing it to hold water. So in theory, if you flavor the water that you allowing that meet to hold then that flavor will be throughout the meat as compared to just seasoning the outside of the meat.
So in my recipe, I like to balance all sorts of flavors creating a much more approachable and rounded flavor. First I add the traditional ingredients for corned beef such as bay leaves, mustard seeds, black peppercorns and potassium nitrate, which is a chemical used to achieve the desired texture and color of the beef you want. Without the potassium nitrate, your beef will turn grayish brown. But that is where my recipe starts to stray directly away from tradition.
I add a good amount of brown sugar and honey. I add a little more sugar than usual because it enables me to get a good sear on the meat if I so desire. The sugar will also help round out the spices I add as well, dumbing down the spicy elements of the brine.
I personally love the addition of baking spices to my corned beef. You don’t really end up tasting them individually but it helps bulk up the savory aspect and compliments the sweetness of the meat. So in order to achieve that I will add cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, star anise, and allspice berries. All of these spices play off each other so well especially when I add a little bit of espresso powder to my brine as well. This will really add a robust element to your corned beef and set it apart from boring old corned beef most people are used to.
For my spice element, I rely heavily on the use of red chili flake. I don’t want my corned beef to be considered spicy so I use something that is rather mild on the Scoville scale to just get a hint of heat to round out the flavor.
Finally, I add in just a hint of fresh ginger slices, only about 3 or 4 ¼“ slices. Then I will add my juniper berries, and a small handful of fresh herbs, mostly thyme but just a sprig or two of rosemary. The herbs will really bring an earthy element to the corned beef.
I throw all of this into a pot with some water and a good amount of salt. Bring it up to a boil to dissolve the salt and sugar I added. Then I will cool it with some ice and then brine my brisket for about 8-10 days allowing that brine to really penetrate the meat and inject as much flavor as we can. Then once its time to cook it, wash off the brine and simmer for about 2.5-3 hours. You can have a cup or two of cabbage ready for this but I promise you will just want to keep eating the beef and forget about the cabbage.
Chef Jess teaches the Cuisine Certificate Course at the Park City Culinary Institute and has a special place in his heart for brining technique, brined shitake mushrooms, and brined corn beef.