Saturday, 30 July 2011

Home-Cured Salt Beef

Last Saturday was Leamington farmers market, which I go to every month. I have to limit myself to a single purchase, or I would spend far too much. I chose for this month's buy a small joint of beef brisket, a hard-working piece of the animal that is not as popular as it should be. It's cheap and delicious, but requires slow cooking to break down the connective tissue and turn it into good eating.

There were several routes I could go down- brisket is a traditional cut in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, where it turns up as a pot roast, or the prune-sweetened beef tsimmes. The Chinese stew it, or put it in soup with noodles. This particular brisket was to become salt beef.

After a bit of cookery book consultation, I used a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book Meat. I had to downscale it slightly- he writes in terms of joint of around 3kgs, whereas I had mere slice of beef, weighing in at 800 grams. I halved the brine quantities, and only left the meat in it for 3 days as opposed to the suggested 7-10. I also decided to leave out the optional saltpetre, which is used to keep the meat a more attractive pink colour instead of stewed brown-grey. If you decide to use go down the more attractive route, saltpetre is available in larger pharmacies.

Here is the recipe in it's original form, it is up to the reader to implement any changes:

For the brining stage:
3kg brisket
5L water
500g demerera sugar
1.5kg salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
5 cloves
4 bay leaves
30g saltpetre

Put all the ingredients except for the beef in a saucepan and bring to the boil- give it the odd stir to help the sugar and salt dissolve, if like me, you hate feeling uninvolved with the cooking going on. Once it has reached boiling, take it off the heat and allow it to cool completely.
Put the meat and brine in a non-reactive container (i.e. tupperware or similar, nothing metallic). You may need something to way down the meat to keep it submerged; Hugh suggests a piece of wood,I used a small plate. You can keep it in a cool place, as suggested. I decided to keep it in the fridge as my flat is too warm for me to feel comfortable to do so.
After your brining time (see above for notes on this), remove the meat from the brine. The joint will feel firm, and also be a rather unappetising brown. But have faith. Now you need to remove excess salt by soaking it in fresh water for 24-48 hours, depending on the size of your joint. The water needs to be changed at least once. After this rather uninteresting stage, we move onto cooking.

For the cooking:
1 bouquet garni
1 onion, peeled and halved
1 carrot
1 stick celery
1 leek
1/2 head garlic

Put all the ingredients, plus your beef and water to cover in a casserole and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for around 2-3 hours, till the meat is tender. You can either eat it hot there and then, or have it cold. Personally I prefer it cold, so I allowed it to cool overnight in the cooking liquid before removing.
Salt beef, pre-cooking...

......and post cooking... 
...and mid slicing, please note the essential accompaniment alongside.

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