Today is the deadline for the Charcutepalooza March challenge: brining. The apprentice challenge – brining a whole chicken or some pork chops – is something I’ve been doing for years, so I changed it up a bit and brined duck legs instead.
The charcuterie challenge was a bit more complicated: brine a piece of beef brisket to make corned beef. This challenge way way out of my comfort zone, due to accidents of birth and upbringing:
- Although my last name is Shaw, I have no Irish ancestry at all. I’m partially of Scottish descent, hence my affinity for haggis.
- My Italian mother never cooked corned beef; the closest she ever came was boiled ham and cabbage, a childhood dish my father enjoyed and I loathed.
- Despite growing up short train ride away from New York City, I have never eaten at the Carnegie Deli or Katz’s. I may have eaten corned beef once or twice in my life, but it was unmemorable.
With three strikes against me I placed my faith in Ruhlman’s hands and relied on his brine and pickling spice recipes to get the beef started. In five days I was able to turn this:
As I contemplated how to braise the beef, I saw a recipe from Craigie on Main chef Tony Maws pop up in my Twitter feed, as if he knew what I was working on. He’s never steered me wrong with his food before, so I chose his braising method, which was heavier on the sweet aromatics. During the four hour simmer the house smelled amazing. I began to hope that this completely foreign food would turn out all right. I let the beef rest overnight in the fridge, in its pot of braising liquid, while I figured out how to cook it.
Again Ruhlman came to the rescue, calling attention to his corned beef and cabbage recipe posted last year. I was intrigued by his cabbage preparation; perhaps it wouldn’t become a heap of mushy, stinky, gray-green sludge. I took a chance and prepared the dish for last-minute dinner guests, and it turned out rather well. The beef was so tender it was difficult to slice into whole pieces (note to self: slice beef while cold, then heat up), the cabbage was cooked but still had some crunch, the salty, buttery potatoes provided a starchy counterpoint, and the cooking liquid (enhanced with dijon mustard) tied everything together. I need not comment on the bacon lardons, because, well, bacon.
This corned beef stuff tasted good, and both She Who Must Be Obeyed and He Who Will Not Be Ignored agreed with my plan to convert some of the leftovers into corned beef hash. Again, Tony Maws was reading my mind, because he posted his hash recipe the same day. Although I skipped his suggestion of finishing the dish with hollandaise sauce, I did add the optional poached egg. I served this for dinner, and it rocked the house.
I still had a third of the beef remaining, I was on a roll, so I decided to make reuben sandwiches for She Who, who claims not to have eaten a decent reuben since she moved away from Brooklyn. This was a big risk for me, because I’d have to face down two ingredients I have managed to avoid most of my life: Russian dressing and the dreaded sauerkraut. I could never understand the appeal of a mayo/ketchup/sweet relish mixture, and I could never get past the smell of canned fermented cabbage. But if I could make and eat kimchi and live to tell the tale, I should be able to conquer kraut.
I didn’t have time to make sauerkraut, but I found the next best thing in at my neighborhood market: homemade small-batch sauerkraut sold in refrigerated jars. As for the dressing, the recipe in Charcuterie proved to be my best bet, in that it was refreshingly devoid of relish. I had a slab of Emmenthaler cheese, and had recently baked my own rye (recipe from Ruhlman’s Bread Baking Basics iPad app, but also posted here).
Time to make the sandwiches: This time I sliced the beef while it was cold, using my new toy:
I also used it to slice the cheese and bread, then began the assembly: bread, dressing, cheese, beef, sauerkraut (which, much to my surprise and delight, tasted like brined cabbage), cheese, dressing, and bread.
After a slow toasting on a griddle over low heat, they were done. I served them with homemade pickles.
I was pleased with how these turned out, but had to wait for She Who’s considered opinion: “This is a fine sandwich. You need to make them again.” It was all there: salty beef, crunchy cabbage, nutty cheese, rich dressing, and hearty bread.
Three days, three meals, three successes, all with a previously unknown ingredient. I feel like Iron Chef Charcuterie. (That’s a good idea – maybe Michael Symon will consider adopting the name.)