How-tos:  how to cook corned beef brisket, the newbie guide

It’s that time of year again.  About two weeks before St. Patrick’s Day, the bulk corned beef and prepackaged slabs begin to appear in every grocer’s meat case.   For 11 months of the year, most of us make do with sliced corned beef from the deli.  In March, however, shoppers suddenly want the real thing; call it a seasonal ritual or a tonic of sorts, something to mark the coming of spring.

There are two different cuts of corned beef.  A ‘flat’ is a flat slab of beef brisket, whereas a ‘point’ looks more like the end of a roast and is typically an irregularly shaped piece of meat.  I usually stick to flat brisket – it’s easier to fit into a Dutch oven or enameled cast-iron casserole, cooks more evenly, and is easier to slice.  Be aware, though, that corned beef usually shrinks when you cook it – always more than you expect it to, and you lose perhaps as much as one-third of the original weight; so compensate for that by buying a bigger slab if you want a goodly amount of leftovers.

Here’s a quick reference guide for cooking corned beef brisket using three different methods.  For those who enjoy that wonderful Irish mix of mashed potatoes and sautéed shredded cabbage known as colcannon, I’ll be posting that recipe next time.

 

Irish corned beef and cabbage dinner with red potatoes (public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Irish corned beef and cabbage dinner with red potatoes (public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

 
On the stovetop

In a covered casserole or Dutch oven big enough to fit your slab, add the corned beef; surround with peeled carrot chunks, sprinkle on the pickling spice, then add a bouquet garni consisting of 2 bay leaves, 4 to 6 sprigs of fresh thyme, and a few sprigs of parsley all tied together.  Cover contents with enough water, unsalted beef stock, or low-sodium beef broth to fully submerge the meat.  Cover the pot tightly, bring contents to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer.  Add peeled and halved russet or Yukon Gold potatoes on top of the meat (skip that if you’re serving colcannon or mashed potatoes), then cover tightly again and simmer.  Cooking time is 50 minutes per pound of corned beef.

In the oven

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  In a covered casserole or Dutch oven big enough to fit your slab, add the corned beef; surround with peeled carrot chunks, sprinkle on the pickling spice, then add a bouquet garni consisting of 2 bay leaves, 4 to 6 sprigs of fresh thyme, and a few sprigs of parsley all tied together.  Cover contents with enough water, unsalted beef stock, or low-sodium beef broth to fully submerge the meat.  Add peeled and halved russet or Yukon Gold potatoes on top of the meat (skip that if you’re serving colcannon or mashed potatoes), then cover pot and put it in the oven.  Cooking time is 50 minutes per pound of corned beef.

In the slow cooker

Set up your slow cooker.  Heat water, unsalted stock or low-sodium beef broth in a saucepan, but don’t boil; set aside.  Add the meat to the crock, then surround or cover with carrot chunks; sprinkle on the pickling spice and add a bouquet garni of bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and parsley, then pour in enough warm liquid to cover both the meat and the carrots.  Add peeled and halved russet or Yukon Gold potatoes on top of the meat, and add just enough liquid to submerge the potatoes halfway (skip the potatoes if you’re serving colcannon or mashed potatoes).  Cover the pot and set the slow cooker for at least 6 hours (6 to 8 is fine if you’re not going to be home while it cooks).

 

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