Charcutepalooza Challenge: A Corned Beef Conversion

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Oh we of little faith! By ‘we’ I mean my partner in charcuterie making, Nancy, and myself. Nancy owns La Cuisine, a cookware store in Alexandria, VA. She is a Francophile and we are both Italophiles. We were thrilled with February’s Charcutepalooza challenge—making homemade pancetta. Neither of us, to be honest, was over the moon about March’s challenge: brining a brisket and then making corned beef. Snooooozzzze. I mean, who doesn’t know how to submerge a piece of meat in a salty solution? We put it off. We almost didn’t do it.

But we’re not quitters. We signed up for this annual Year of Meat (for those who are not familiar with Charcutepalooza, it’s all explained here; but briefly, it’s a year-long project among food bloggers to tackle a different charcuterie project every month). Given my name, you can probably understand why I was a little more excited about making pancetta than making corned beef. I like a good corned beef sandwich as much as the next native New Yorker, but it isn’t something I crave often. Nancy is the same way. However, her husband, Robert, happens to love corned beef, and my husband is part Irish, so what the heck, we forged ahead. I mixed together the pickling spice, as per the recipe in the Charcutepalooza “bible”—the book Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. Nancy bought a gorgeous cut of brisket from The Organic Butcher, in McLean and brined and then simmered the meat. She tasted it when it was done and sent me this update in an email:

“I must admit that I was sort of yawning through this project…BUT, it is delicious. I was shocked.”

Since we were running behind (all that procrastination), we decided to keep things simple and traditional. Nancy invited my husband and me to dinner for homemade corned beef reuben sandwiches. She made a batch of Russian dressing, adapted from an Emeril recipe; I made a batch of creamy (but not too creamy) cole slaw, adapted from an Allrecipes recipe. We added sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. We put it all together and then Robert grilled the sandwiches (behold his high-tech sandwich press technique at right). She was right; the corned beef was delicious—beyond delicious. The meat was firm and satisfyingly chewy, and not at all like the mealy pre-brined and boiled corned beef that I have had the misfortune of encountering from time to time. I could taste the warm flavors of the clove and bay leaf and coriander from the pickling spice. (I will never by pre-mixed pickling spice again; making your own from fresh whole spices is easy and much, much better.)

The only glitch in our handiwork is that we did not let the meat brine long enough; thus the telltale deep pink color of corned beef did not penetrate to the very center of the brisket and it had a thin sliver of gray in the middle. It was just a cosmetic thing, but next time I would brine an extra day.

Nancy and Robert sent us home with a generous portion of leftover corned beef. I used some to make more sandwiches; with the rest (about a pound) I made corned beef hash with potatoes and Japanese sweet potatoes, and poached eggs on top. That was my family’s St. Patrick’s Day dinner. You’ll have to take my word for how good it was (there are no pictures to show you). Even my kids inhaled it, including the one who purports not to like poached eggs and the one who purports not to like sweet potatoes. Here’s the recipe for the hash. I hope you’ll give it a try, and you certainly don’t have to wait until St. Paddy’s Day to enjoy it.

Makes 6 servings

Recipe: Corned Beef & Sweet Potato Hash with Poached Eggs

This recipe is adapted from the cookbook One Potato Two Potato, by Roy Finamore with Molly Stevens. I've made many versions of this hash using leftover pork roast, chicken, and steak. If you don't have corned beef you can use any of those substitutes with great results.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 russet potato (about 1/2 pound), boiled, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 Japanese sweet potato (about 1/2 pound), boiled, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 pound corned beef, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • Sweet Hungarian paprika
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 6 poached eggs

Instructions

Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet (I use a well-seasoned 10-inch cast iron skillet) over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, until softened and just starting to brown a little.

In a large bowl, toss the potatoes and corned beef together. Season with a grating or two of nutmeg, a generous pinch of paprika, salt to taste, and plenty of pepper.

Dump the meat mixture into the skillet and turn with a spatula to combine it with the onions. Press down hard with the back of your spatula to compress the hash. Lower the heat to medium-low and allow the hash to cook for several minutes to form a bottom crust. Occasionally press down on the top with your spatula to compress it. This should take about 8 minutes.

Pour the cream over the hash and turn it with the spatula to break up the bottom crust and incorporate the cream. Flatten it again and let it cook, undisturbed save for the occasional pressing, for another 8 minutes.

Turn the hash again. [Although the recipe suggests that at this point the hash should be something of a compressed cake, I have never had mine adhere quite so nicely; it is always in chunks and pieces, so that is how I serve it.]

Serve the hash from the skillet and top each portion with a freshly poached egg, the runnier the better.

Variations

Substitute leftover pork roast, chicken or steak for the corned beef.

Cooking time (duration): 40 minutes

Culinary tradition: USA (General)

Copyright © Domenica Marchetti.

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7 Responses to Charcutepalooza Challenge: A Corned Beef Conversion

  1. foodwanderings March 20, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

    Hi Domenica, I know corned beef pretty straight forward but you can imagine I had many that were off the mark, tough! Loved hearing about your corned beed trials of th epink inside but it still looks succulent. Love the corned beef hash!! In out home ever since we met whe Jonathan was twenty corned beef is J’s specialty. Love that he has couple that and omelettes:) We find that first cut corned beef is key:). Love your posts! Shulie

    • Domenica March 21, 2011 at 12:10 am #

      Thank you, Shulie. Making corned beef from scratch really was a revelation–so easy and so much better than store-bought. Like the corned beef-omelette idea!

  2. Barbara | VinoLuciStyle March 21, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    I had a Reuben sandwich on St. Patrick’s Day…and was thinking that even though I might be late to this party I need to try this; I just love corned beef but have never before thought of making my own.

    Your sandwiches look mouth watering…so much so that as I get ready to leave and run some errands I might have to stop for that brisket today…enough of this procrastination, I want some!

    • Domenica March 21, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

      Hi Barb,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, the corned beef delivered lots for very little flavor. I would try it if I were you. Around here it’s impossible to find a good corned beef sandwich so the project was definitely worth it for me.

      • Domenica March 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

        What I MEANT to say is that it delivered LOTS of flavor for VERY LITTLE effort. Must have been tired when I typed that!

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