Home-Cured Sous Vide Corned Beef and Salt-Pickled Vegetables
Corned beef doesn’t exactly conjure images of glamour and sophistication; nevertheless it’s one of those things I get a craving for it roughly once a year. How convenient that my craving happened a short while before St. Patrick’s Day so I can share my results with you lot (I’m told that’s a right Irish way of saying things- correct me if I’ve misspoken).
Supermarket corned beef, in my experience, is tough, plagued with a lingering flavor of skeevy salt, and downright bilious in many cases. Doing it right, which means doing it yourself, really only takes a bit of planning, is more economical and tastes infinitely superior. I borrowed the corning technique from Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie with only minor adjustments based on my own taste preferences. I’m a bay leaf fanatic, so I doubled up on those since my bay leaf tree is only too happy to oblige me with her radiant foliage. I started with a lovely first-cut brisket that I picked up for a song from my favorite butcher in Pike Place Market. The capable butcher men are always eager to help now that they know I write a Seattle food blog and they can log on and check out the crazy things I do to their meat.
The brisket needs to sit in the cure for five days in order to achieve proper “corning,” which is great because it gives you lots of time to think about which sundry delicacies you’ll serve alongside it. I also pickled some vegetables using a salt-brine rather than vinegar and let those get nice and infused over the five day period. I came up with two appetizers that at first seemed slightly incongruous to me but in retrospect I realize there was, in fact, a common thread uniting the meal. Appetizer “A” consisted of bresaola, which is air-cured beef, wrapped around stracchino cheese topped with a leaf of mache lettuce.
Next up was an inventive take of seared foie gras. I had gluten-free folks coming to dinner so the toast squares I might have normally served the foie gras with were out. I decided to be inventive with the base of my dish and use baby artichoke halves as the “bread” to the foie gras’ “butter.” I halved them and cooked them in pear butter in the Sous Vide Supreme for two hours at 183° and they were perfect in texture.
They took on a touch of sweetness from the pear which matched the rest of the dish well. I topped the artichokes and foie gras with a pear-Sauternes sorbet I whipped up while the artichokes were stewing. I steeped anise, cardamom, clove and nutmeg into the sorbet and those flavors really brought out the delicate taste of the foie gras.
Have you realized what everything has in common yet? Every course features something that has been cured, aka something that falls under the vast realm known as charcuterie. It is interesting that charcuterie is today considered a delicacy. Much like necessity being the mother of invention, charcuterie at its source was really just a means of preserving food so it would last longer before the era of refrigeration. Nowadays we don’t technically need to cure meats, so it’s moved into the domain of luxury and often the price of good charcuterie reflects that. It’s a fun world in which to dabble; oftentimes all you need is an inexpensive cut of meat, some salt and a bit of time.
Back to the corned beef. After it finished curing in its rock star juice, I rinsed it and bagged it along with some homemade pickling spice liquid and plopped it into the sous vide bath at 176° for 26 hours. For those of you battling with the sous vide/foodsaver bagging liquid issues, I’ve finally come up with a bit of a workaround. I know many people freeze the liquid into a solid so they can suck all the air out. I also know Thomas Keller feels the foodsaver is unacceptable and everyone should really be using a $3,000 cryovac that really does the trick of sucking all the air out even when there’s liquid in the bag.
Short of spending three grand or taking the time that I don’t often plan for to pre-freeze my liquids, I’ve found myself SOL on several occasions now. It helps to use gravity, ie hold your bag below the foodsaver as you’re sealing and it will be harder for the foodsaver to suck up any liquid. The other really great trick that has been working wonders for me is a double bagging system. First I pack the corned beef (or whatever) and liquid into one foodsaver bag without sealing it. Then I insert this bag sideways into a second, larger foodsaver bag. I seal the outer bag and it’s able to get a ton more air out since the liquid is all trapped in the inner bag. It’s not a perfect solution but until I have a spare three grand lying around, it will do.
The time and temperature seemed to be just right, and I’m glad I went with my gut instead of listening to all the random voices on the internet. If I had an extra day or two to play around I would have been really tempted to do a 48 hour cure at a lower temp, perhaps closer to 134°, but now that I’ve achieved a result I’m immensely satisfied with I think I’ll stick with it next time too.
The only truly great solution to this problem would be a parallel tasting. Don’t you think the good folks over at Sous Vide Supreme should lend me a second sous vide machine so I could throw in two briskets, two sea bassies, two Silkie chickens and two Jerusalem artichokes all at different times/temps to get down to the real nitty gritty of culinary perfection? There are plenty of scientific studies on the affects of different sous vide temperatures and what happens to the sinews and muscles not to mention gasses released by the meat.
I would opt for a different approach, however, one that defies scientific logic in many cases. After all, aren’t some of the greatest culinary feats in history achieved by happy accident? I’m thrilled to note that my typical “cook-by-feel” approach seems to work in the sous vide bath thus far, I only regret not being able to mess around with multiple times, temps,and preparations simultaneously so I can arrive at a final consensus sooner. After too many words (why am I so long-winded) I will leave you to your gastronomic devices, any questions on sous vide corned beef? Leave me a comment and I’ll hit you back.
*One final note: I will be on vacation away from the land of technology in the coming weeks. I haven’t forgotten about my amazing readers, I just need a bit of r and r. When I return I’ll be back with a vengeance, but in the meantime please enjoy this lovely springtime and join me in a virtual clinking of wine glasses. Salute, Linda :)