Dinner - Clay Pot Corned Beef
I started out with a 3Lb point cut of brisket which served six hungry people. Briskets can be quite large, it's probably best to get one from a butcher that will cut it to size for you. It's important to get the point cut as it's more well-marbled than the flat cut.
'Corned beef' is actually just beef cured in a salt mixture. In a large pot I prepared a brine. I used enough water to dissolve a cup and a half of kosher salt (any non-iodized salt will do). Into this brine, I added about a half cup of brown sugar, some paprika, and cayenne. In my spice grinder I roughly ground some black peppercorns, allspice berries, and a few bay leaves. I chopped up some fresh sage and thyme and added that to the mixture as well. I also added some quartered onions and several cloves of whole garlic. I brought the entire mixture to a boil for a minute and then removed it from heat to let it cool.
Since the brisket is going to cured for a week it's very important to discourage any bacterial growth. To do this, the entire mixture must be kept below 40 degrees fahrenheit. Before the meat can be added to the brine, it must be chilled. I did this by placing it in the freezer for a while. To cure the brisket, it must be placed in a large sealable container. I used a rubbermaid container suitable for the purpose. The brisket should be placed in the container and the brine mixture should be poured over it. The meat must be completely submerged so any amount of chilled water can then be added to top off the container. The container should then be sealed and placed in the bottom of the refigerator for atleast a week or longer. After a week's time, the night before cooking, I removed the brisket from the refigerator, drained the brine and replaced it with clean chilled water. Soaking the corned beef for atleast 12 hours is necessary to keep it from being too salty.
I cooked my corned beef in a romertopf clay pot for approximately six hours at 300 degrees. For tougher cuts of beef like brisket or stew meats it is necessary to cook them for a long time over low heat to make them tender. I typically cook brisket, ribs or roasts at ~250-275 degrees fahrenheit unless I'm using the romertopf which requires a little more heat. This is the secret to making these cuts tender and juicy.
I soaked the romertopf in water for 30 minutes. Then I lined the bottom with slices of onions and whole cloves of garlic and placed the cured beef inside, closed the lid and put it in the cold oven. After cooking for five hours, I added some potatos and carrots. I used baby carrots and chopped some russet potatoes similar in size to the carrots. I placed these in a large bowl, coated them with olive oil and tossed them with freshly chopped parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme....and marjoram. I pulled the clay pot out of the oven and just added the potatoes and carrots in on top of the brisket. The lid was closed and the pot was placed back into the oven for an hour. I then raised the temperature of the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit and removed the lid from the clay pot and let the potatoes and carrots brown for ten minutes or so.
In the last hour of cooking I also prepared some cabbage. I basically just quartered four heads and placed them into a pot with some water and some diced country ham leftover from christmas. Any salt pork will do for flavoring. I also added a bit of freshly ground pepper and then just simmered the cabbage for a while.
The end result was surprisingly good. As it was all an experiment, I wasn't sure if it would taste like the corned beef that I was accustomed to. It was unmistakably corned beef. The only difference being the color. Apparently, commercially prepared corned beef retains a very pink color from the addition of saltpeter (sodium nitrate) which is not beneficial and possibly harmful. The natural color of the corned beef was a little more grayish, but not unpleasing at all.
The same dish could probably just as easily be prepared in a crock pot or in a roaster in the oven. In a crock pot, just cook it like you would a large roast, and if using an oven roaster, I'd recommend cooking it for several hours at 250 degrees fahrenheit.