Rev 0.12, last revised: 21-Sep-08
The process of "corning" was so named for the corn sized chunks of salt used in those olden times. Most any meat can be corned: beef, lamb, venison, antelope, moose, and bear among others. The first known instance of "corned meat" that I found was invented by a fellow named John Wilson, a resident of London, England, circa 1725.
By trade, John was a chemist, and apparently used his skills with chemistry to concoct the mixture that we call "corning" today. While you may see or read of other recipes, I'd think that this copy of what's supposed to be his original version of that recipe, is probably a good place to start.
"Corned beef" is available year round in most grocery stores in the United States. However, what they sell and how they make it should be a warning to all. They use the cheapest of meats, drowning it in a caustic brew of chemicals intended to get it done and make it marketable as quickly as possible. The recipe below will indeed corn an inexpensive brisket of beef. But, you can also corn a wonderful roast. And have the additional security of knowing that you know exactly what's in your food.
The following recipe will make about 2-gallons of the liquid medium used for the corning of the meat. Adjust the recipe up or down as your own specific needs dictate.
1/2-cup sugar (I prefer light-brown, but any will do)
1-tablespoon of sodium nitrate (or salt peter (potassium nitrate))
2-cups iodine free salt (I prefer "Kosher" salt or sea salt)
1-teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2-teaspoon ground cloves
2 bay leaves, hand crushed
2 tablespoons of mixed pickling spice
1 small onion, sliced thin
1-2 cloves of minced garlic
As with most spices, you can vary the amount of each to suit your own tastes.
Mix all ingredients into a pickle, crock, or glass jar; adding enough water to make a total of 2-gallons.
Meat is best corned at around 38-40F. In the cellar or even out in an enclosed garage during the spring and fall would probably be okay. Higher temperatures will not significantly change the "corning" effect. For every 15F degrees above 40F add one-third more salt.
Loosely pack your meat into any non-reactive container. Set a plate or some other non-reactive cover over the meat to hold it down, as it's going to want to bob up and float if unrestricted. Cover well. Allow to "corn" for 15 days. On the 5th and 10th day, stir the liquid up and move the pieces around to ensure complete and even enzyme activity.
As I'd described earlier, you can use a poor cut of meat like brisket and make it wonderful. But for a real treat, you should try a good piece of round, sirloin, shoulder, or rump roast.
Cooking Corned Meats:
Place your newly corned meat in a pan with a cover. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and remove any "scum" that might have floated to the top. Reduce the heat and simmer for about five hours or until nice and tender. Season to taste and serve as the main meat dish.
Authentic Irish Corned Beef and Cabbage:
No mention of newly corned beef would be complete without mentioning this world famous recipe. It is truly a wonderful recipe. If you've not made and eaten this one, you've missed one of the world's finest meals.
Begin with a piece of corned beef that weighs about three pounds. During the final hour of cooking (see above) add six whole, small onions (~2 in.) and six freshly scrubbed carrots. During the final half-hour of cooking, add 3 small (~5 in.) cabbages (or quarter larger ones). Note that all of the vegetables are cooked whole.
Serve the meats and vegetables together on a large platter.