CHARCUTEPALOOZA CHALLENGE #3: CORNED BEEF, PASTRAMI, AND ONE OF LIFE’S GREAT BARS
The March Charcutepalooza challenge brings us to brining. Which for me meant corned beef, pastrami and a stinky, stinky attempt at sauerkraut.
The process of making corned beef started with a very nice looking locally raised, grass fed brisket. Brisket being the national steak of Texas, this one wasn’t very difficult to procure. Also keeping in the norms of Texas, the smallest brisket available weighed in at about 10lbs. We just don’t do 5lb brisket in this state, if you want that shit go to Oklahoma. So at the outset my brisket was roughly twice the size of that recommended in Charcuterie, but I had a pan big enough to hold it so I figured it wouldn’t be an issue. Beef in hand, it was time to get on with the corning. Which was basically a week of brining in a mixture of salt, sodium nitrate and some pickling spices.
A week can be a long time. Mostly it can be a long time when trying to figure out what you’re going to do with 10lbs of corned beef. My wife does not subscribe to the Costanza-ism that “Pastrami is the most sensual of all the salted, cured meats.” or that any salted cured bits of ungulate are sensual at all for that matter. So I was clearly on my own, which was fairly daunting. To put this into perspective, if for some reason I had to leave town and eat everything in the fridge in one sitting, I would have to eat 10lbs of corned beef. This seemed overwhelming. So I decided to split the brisket in half and make pastrami as well. Because while 10lbs of corned beef seemed excessive, 5lbs of corned beef and 5lbs of pastrami just seemed well rounded. So out came the knife and half my pickled brisket went into the boil for corned beef and half went into the smoker for pastrami.
This is a good point to talk about sauerkraut. There’s a recipe for it in Charcuterie, which is basically cabbage, salt water and time. A head of cabbage and some kosher salt are not expensive items. I figured it’s a cheap experiment even if it should go terribly wrong, so I purchased my goods and dove in. More accurately, I shredded some cabbage and put it in a saltwater bath. I then put it somewhere out of the way for about two weeks, which happened to be the wine fridge in my dining room that I use for curing things. Seems easy enough, and it was from a physical effort standpoint. What was not easy was a week into the krauting process when my dining room began to smell like a flatulent old German with eye searing gas was hiding under the table where I eat. This stuff stank, literally. My entire house smelled like a cheese shop in the worst way possible for a good week. But I bided my time picturing some kind of mythical gonzo Rueben that I’d be enjoying in a matter of days with each stinking waft. Yes, there was wafting, but all in the name of tasting some kind of eye-popping, goose-stepping, life-changing superkraut, right? Nope. After putting up with the smell of this stuff for days, it tasted like… cabbage in salt water. No brilliant alchemy had taken place. No goosestepping was to be done. Just opening a window and turning on some ceiling fans. The kraut is now in my fridge, tightly sealed awaiting further transformation, we’ll see if it happens.
The sauerkraut stank, but what didn’t stink was the smell of simmering corned beef in my kitchen. We’re talking dynamite smells here, smells so good that I was temped to take some of the simmering liquid and splash it in my beard just so I could enjoy it for the rest of the day. Some people love the smell of babies or flowers, give me salt cured beef and I could sniff for days.
Smell being a fine indicator, the corned beef did not disappoint: mildly briny, yieldingly tender and outstanding lingering flavors of clove and allspice. This was indeed a sensual salted, cured meat. And it was destined for greatness in both flavor and tribute.
I think that every man who enjoys a pint is afforded a handful of great bars in his lifetime. Stout Public House was, and still is, one of mine. Co-owned by an Irishman and Canadian, it’s quite possibly the only hockey themed Irish pub with occasional mariachi accompaniment in the US. And above that it’s one of the only true neighborhood joints in downtown San Diego. A quick survey of the surrounding landscape of sunburned, fanny-packed tourists, psychotic hobos and club girls in one-size-fits-nobody black dresses shows just what a feat that is. On any given night the crowd inside Stout is the familiar mix of retired Marines, service industry stalwarts and ad hacks like me. So regular are the regulars that a friend noticed a phenomenon she named “The Catholic School Roll Call,” in which Mark, the Irish owner and bartender, would list those of us not in attendance by our proper names, “Hello Alice, where’s Joseph, Michael and Jacob?” As though we were missing our daily after work lesson in pints and jiggers.
The boys at Stout are always gracious and they always know what you want. Which for me was usually a stout, sometimes a whiskey or scotch, and every so often “The Jake,” a dish sort-of named after me because I was the only one who ordered it: beer battered, deep fried corned beef. The boys make both their own beer batter and corned beef, and once combined they go down like pickled, lipid soaked beef butter. It’s county fair food at it’s finest. And it’s a perfect memory from a place that, for me, holds many, many of them. To speak of corned beef and not honor Stout and “The Jake” would be something akin to blasphemy, which in Catholic Pint School is something I wouldn’t dare commit.
I created my version using rye flour and ale in the batter, toasted caraway seeds as garnish and a homemade malt vinegar mayo for dipping. Because, what else would you do with deep fried, salt cured meat besides dip it in mayonnaise? I call it The Stout in tribute to one of my favorite places. The result is something lovely: crispy flaky batter, soft and tender corned beef all offset with punches from the caraway and the silky love of the malt vinegar mayo. It’s a more than worthy tribute to it’s namesake and goes perfect with a pint of the black stuff and a few Lipitor.
Beer battered Corned Beef
Caraway Seeds, toasted
Salt, Pepper, Paprika
Steamed Corned Beef, cut into 1 inch by 1 inch chunks
Steam the corned beef for several minutes until it’s soft and tender. Mix all ingredients except the AP flour and caraway seeds into a batter with no lumps. Take the hot corned beef and dredge in AP flour. Dip in the batter and fry at 375F till golden brown. Sprinkle with toasted caraway seeds.
Malt Vinegar Mayo
1 egg yolk.
½ cup plus 1 tbsp flavorful malt vinegar
A little lemon juice
1 cup vegetable oil
In a sauce pan, reduce the ½ cup of malt vinegar down to about a tablespoon. Cool it down in the fridge. Whisk the egg, salt and reduced malt vinegar together. Slowly stream in the oil while whisking, creating an emulsion. Add in the remaining vinegar and lemon juice. Taste. Adjust seasonings. Dip corned beef. Eat. Resist the urge to rub it on yourself.
**A very special thank you to my friend John who was nice enough to design me a fine new masthead.