Archive for the ‘brining’ Category

I love onions! Raw, sautéed, caramelized, yellow, Spanish, Bermuda, Vidalia, Texas Sweets, scallion, pearl, Crimini, Walla Walla…they can do no wrong. In fact, my family gave me the Lithuanian nickname: “Ponas Svogūnas.” (“Mr. Onion.”) I answer to it proudly.

I also love vodka martinis! So if I’m going to buy a top shelf vodka like Stoli Elit or Belvedere, I’m not going to ruin it with jarred cocktail onions, brined with cheap vermouth, found in the bar mixers section of my local supermarket. Who knows how long those nasty things have been sitting on the shelf?

No, I’m going to make my own cocktail onions to enjoy a proper Gibson!

The Gibson martini is simply one with onions instead of olives, and the story of its origin is somewhat unclear. According to one story, it was invented by Charles Dana Gibson, who created the popular Gibson Girl illustrations. Supposedly, he challenged Charley Connolly, the bartender of the private club, The Players, in New York City, to improve on a martini. Connolly simply substituted an onion for the olive and named it after Gibson.

Another story claims a man named Gibson dropped an onion in his water-filled martini glass to differentiate between his own drink and that of his colleagues, who were imbibing heavily.

Some stories about the Gibson don’t even mention an onion. (?)

And yet another story, now considered the more probable one, is that the Gibson martini was invented at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco in the 1890’s by Walter D. K. Gibson. There is documentation as early as 1898 to back that up.

Whatever story you want to believe, the Gibson martini was originally made with gin, not vodka, but that’s strictly a personal preference–and I don’t use any vermouth.

 

 

My first attempt at homemade cocktail onions was not a success. I bought pearl onions and did what the package instructions said: I dropped them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then moved them to ice water to let them cool. Then a gentle squeeze on one end of the onion would make it pop right out of its skin. Easy, right?

Well, it didn’t work out that way. For one thing, the onions got soft…not what I wanted. I had to cut one end of the bulb with a knife. And even then, when I squeezed the onion, the part that popped out was about half the size of the original onion…there was a lot of waste.

 

 

After brining, they tasted OK, but they never had that crisp bite I wanted. They were mushy. I realized that boiling was not the way to go.

 

A lot of waste.

I knew there had to be a better way. Then I discovered already peeled pearl onions at Whole Foods. I have to be honest…I won’t use any other onions now. They’re big, plump, and exactly what I want.

 

Sure, these are much larger than the onions you find in a jar. But tell me how that’s a problem!

 

 

 

1 lb. pearl onions, peeled, ends cut off
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2  cups water
3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado sugar)
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt (per quart-sized Mason jar)
2 cloves garlic

 

Combine the white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, and peppercorns in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring it to a boil, making sure the sugar dissolves completely. Remove it from the heat.

 

 

Slice the ends off the onions.

I’ve found that if I allow the brining liquid to get inside the onions, especially these larger ones, they’ll get tastier faster…and who doesn’t want that? So I take a thin metal or bamboo barbecue skewer and push it through the center of the top of the onions, all the way through the center of the bottom of the onions. Now there’s a little “tunnel” for that brine to get in, and it can work its magic from the inside out!

Not skewering the onions simply means it’ll take longer for that brine to seep in…but that’s perfectly fine if you want a not-so-briny onion.

 

 

In a quart-sized Mason jar, add the teaspoon of salt and garlic cloves. Pour a little of the hot vinegar liquid in the Mason jar to dissolve the salt. Add the onions to the jar, as tightly as you can, then fill the jar to the top with the vinegar liquid.

Screw the top of the jar on tightly, and turn it upside-down a couple of times to mix everything together. If it looks like the level of the liquid has gone down a bit, open the jar and top it off with the vinegar liquid, then re-seal it.

Let the jar cool to room temperature, then move it to the fridge. You can use the onions as soon as the craving hits you, but they’ll taste better if you give them a few days to a week.

 

 

Many thanks to my friend, Arthur Shapiro, who suggested I write a bit about the origins of the Gibson. Follow Arthur’s blog, “Booze Business,” on Instagram and Facebook. http://www.boozebusiness.com

 

Cheers!

Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away. Time to talk turkey! No matter what method you prefer to cook your bird, brining it beforehand will make it so much tastier and juicier. You really need to try it…and it’s easy to do.

It’s basic high school science: the brine has a greater concentration of salt and water than the molecules of the protein (in this case, a turkey) that is soaking in it. By simple diffusion, the protein molecules suck up the salty water and keep it. When you cook the meat, some of the water evaporates, but the meat still has far more moisture in it than it would have without the brine soaking, and the result is a moister, more delicious bird.

Some people use giant syringes to inject their turkeys with crazy solutions, but I think that the old way is still the best when it comes to brining. Get a big pot, fill it with the brine, and soak the bird in it. Done.

Here’s my tried-and-true turkey brining recipe. Once the brining is done, you can cook the turkey whatever way you like best. I use a method where I grill it inside a Weber grill with charcoal. It comes out smokey and absolutely amazing. I’ll have that info in my next blog.

You must brine a thawed bird, so use your favorite method to thaw your turkey so that it’s ready on Thanksgiving morning. Brining can take 4 to 6 hours, so start early!

For this recipe, you’ll need a large pot to boil the brine ingredients, and then a larger pot to hold the turkey submerged in the brine. I use a turkey no bigger than 15 lbs. for two main reasons: there are only 3 people in our family, and the Weber grill I use can’t handle anything bigger.

 

image

 

1 gallon of water
2 onions
3 carrots
3 stalks celery
1 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons whole allspice
4 bay leaves
1 gallon of ice water
14–15 lb turkey, thawed

Pour the first gallon of water in a large pot. Quarter the onions, carrots and celery (no need to peel them) and add them to the water. Add the salt, black peppercorns, brown sugar, allspice, and bay leaves.

Let the pot come to a boil for a few minutes. Remove it from the heat and let the brine cool down to room temperature.

Remove the giblets from the thawed turkey and place the bird in a container just big enough to hold it and 2 gallons of liquid.

Pour the now-cooled brine over the turkey, then pour in the gallon of ice water.

 

Make sure the turkey doesn’t float up by placing a plate on top. Put the turkey container in the fridge (or a cold garage or basement) for 4 to 6 hours, flipping the turkey over in the container halfway through.

Drain the turkey, rinsing off any spices that stuck to it, then pat it dry with paper towels. Now it’s ready to cook, using your favorite recipe.

If I’m brining a turkey for Thanksgiving, I do the brining in the morning and the turkey is ready to cook by early afternoon. And grilling it on a Weber grill only takes a couple of hours. It’s fast, requires no basting, and is absolutely delicious! That’s next time…

 

 

I don’t have the patience to boil Mason jars and lids and all that crap. But I love me my pickles, especially when this year’s garden is cranking out cucumbers in record numbers!

This is such an easy way to make great pickles, it’s almost unbelievable…and no water is needed! The salt extracts just enough moisture, like when curing meat, to make it work. This method works great if you want fresh pickles to eat immediately, but you’ll need to use the old-fashioned pickling methods if you want to keep them for longer periods of time.

Fortunately for me, I devour these pickles as soon as they’re ready!

I originally used a plastic bag for this, but I found that using a plastic container keeps the pickles aligned better and it’s less messy.

 

pickles

 

 

fresh cucumbers
sea salt
handful of fresh dill
a couple of cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

 

Get a resealable plastic container.

Cut the ends off the cucumbers and then slice them lengthwise, in half or in quarters. Lay them neatly next to each other in one layer in the container, skin-side down. Sprinkle the sea salt over the cucumbers. Sprinkle some of the chopped garlic on top. Then, tear off some fresh dill and lay it to cover the pickles.

You should be able to get a second row of pickles on top of the first, again sprinkling with the salt, garlic, and topping with dill.

 

 

Placing the lid on the container, squeeze out as much air out of the container as you can.

Put the container in the fridge overnight. Making sure the lid is tightly sealed on the container, flip it over every few hours. (I always put a plate underneath it when it’s upside down in case it leaks a little.)

The pickles will be ready to eat the next day, but they’re even better after 48 hours.

 

 

 

 

 

St. Patty’s Day is this Sunday, so supermarkets are full of packages of processed corned beef in preparation for the big celebration. Too bad corned beef isn’t an authentic Irish dish!

The phrase “corned beef” was actually coined by the British, and although the Irish were known for their corned beef throughout Europe in the 17th century, beef was far too expensive for the Irish themselves to eat and all of it was exported to other countries. Owning a cow in Ireland was a sign of wealth, and the Irish used theirs for dairy products, not beef.

The Irish ate pork, and a lot of it, because it was cheap to raise pigs, and they traditionally prepared something like Canadian bacon to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

In the 1900’s, when the Irish came to America, both beef and salt were more affordable, and the Irish, who lived in poor, tight-knit communities, often next to Jewish communities, bought much of their beef from Kosher butchers. And so many of the Irish learned how to corn their beef using Jewish techniques, but adding cabbage and potatoes to the mix.

It takes about 3 weeks to make corned beef. But now that you know it’s not Irish anyway, that’s OK! (If you’re dying to have it on St Patty’s Day anyway, just buy yourself a supermarket slab this time, then make your own when the craving hits again.) Doing it yourself is not difficult. It just takes time…and you get a really delicious slab of beef.

Corned beef has nothing to do with corn. ‘Corning’ is a technique for preserving raw meats for long periods by soaking it in salt brine. This method was used in England before the days of commercial refrigeration. Back then, the large salt kernels used in the brine were called “corns.”

Brining is a time-honored way of preserving meat and it prevents bacteria from growing. Both pastrami and corned beef are made by this method. Both start with a brisket of beef. Corned beef is then cooked–usually boiled–and served. Pastrami is made when the brined meat is rubbed with more spices and then smoked to add extra flavor. So corned beef and pastrami are the same meat, just treated differently.

Saltpeter is an ingredient that has been used in brining beef for years. It adds the traditional red coloring to the corned beef and pastrami meat. But since saltpeter can also contain carcinogens, I leave it out. The meat may not be the usual bright red color, but the flavor and texture of the meat will not be affected.

Brining the beef brisket

Brining the beef brisket

Step one: corned beef…

beef brisket (about 8-10 pounds)
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup warm water
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
3/4 cup salt
2 quarts water

Place the brisket in a large container made of non-reactive material, like glass or plastic.

In the 1/4 cup of warm water, dissolve the sugar, minced cloves, paprika and pickling spices.

Dissolve the 3/4 cup of salt in the 2 quarts of water. Pour in the sugar/garlic/paprika/pickling spices mix and stir everything together. Pour the mixture over the meat in the container. Make sure the meat is totally beneath the surface of the liquid. (You may need to weigh it down to do this.) Cover the container.

Refrigerate the container and its contents for 3 weeks, turning the meat once or twice per week. At the end of the third week, remove the container from the refrigerator and take out the meat. Soak the meat in several changes of fresh cold water over a period of 24 hours to remove the excess salt.

At this point, if you want corned beef, prepare and cook it using your favorite recipe. But I’m all about the pastrami!

Step two: making Pastrami…

pastrami

 

Brined and rinsed corned beef brisket from above recipe, patted dry with paper towels
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Combine the coriander seeds, black and white peppercorns and mustard seeds in a spice grinder and grind coarsely. Place in a bowl. Add the salt, paprika, brown sugar and granulated garlic. Mix well.

Rub the mix into the brisket well, covering all sides.

Heat your smoker to 225 degrees and smoke for several hours using a less intense wood, like oak. When the internal temperature of the meat has reached 165 degrees, it’s done. It isn’t necessary to smoke pastrami as long as you would a regular brisket because the long brining time makes the meat tender.

It is very important that absolutely everything that comes in contact with the meat is very clean. (This includes your hands.) Also, make very sure that every inch of the meat reaches the 165 degrees before it is removed from the smoker. The corned beef is now pastrami.

 

Happy St. Patty’s Day!

When I first told my friends that I grew up in a Lithuanian family, that we only spoke Lithuanian at the dinner table, that I went to Lithuanian Saturday school for 8 years, that I was a Lithuanian boy scout…they looked at me with a bit of disbelief. On the surface, I looked just like any other American-born kid that grew up in the suburbs. But the home life was vastly different.

Few things were stranger to my friends than the food we ate. While all my “American” friends had PB&J’s for lunch, I had a liverwurst sandwich on dark Lithuanian bread. While my friends struggled with broccoli, I was force-fed beets. And while my friends ate macaroni with jarred tomato sauce, my Mom served us macaroni with sour cream and butter. (Nobody called it pasta back then.)

img_0048

 

Few things prove you are a true Lithuanian more than an appetite for herring. (Silke (sil-keh) in Lithuanian.) I loved it at an early age. Didn’t matter if it was in a cream sauce with onions, in a tomato casserole with chopped boletes, or perhaps my favorite: an appetizer my Mom prepared only twice a year when my Dad’s buddies came over to play rounds of bridge all night.

There are a few basic ingredients that make this appetizer work…

First and foremost, you need a bottle of good vodka in the freezer. Despite their lack of love for anything Russian, Lithuanians knew a good vodka when they saw one, and Stolichnaya has been the favorite for many years. Even now, with hundreds of vodkas to choose from, I still go to the red labeled Stoli bottle for this dish. I find a space in the freezer…jam that bottle in there…and let it get nice and cold.

Obviously, good quality herring is essential. Though I can get them fresh when I’m back home on Long Island, the usual choice is from a jar. For me, there’s no better quality than Acme products out of Brooklyn, NY. (If you saw the episode of “Bizarre Foods America” with Andrew Zimmern where he visited a salmon processing plant in Brooklyn, that was Acme Smoked Fish.) You can find them in many supermarkets. Blue Hill Bay herring in dill marinade (an Acme product) is wonderful and can be found at Whole Foods.

Next: hard-boiled eggs that have cooled in the fridge. Get out the old egg slicer that’s been sitting in the kitchen  drawer for the last decade and use it for this appetizer.

Red onion, sliced thin. How much you use is up to you. But it’s gotta be red and it’s gotta be raw.

And finally, Lithuanian bread. Yes, there is such a thing. It’s easy to find in most Polish or German food stores in the New York area. I buy a loaf when I’m home and then keep it in the freezer to enjoy throughout the year. Lithuanian bread is like the lovechild of rye bread and pumpernickel.

img_0051

To make the appetizer, simply place a small piece of Lithuanian bread, about 1 1/2″ square, on a plate. Place a slice of hard-boiled egg on top of it. On top of that, some red onion. Then finally, a piece of herring.

 

img_0046

Pop the whole thing in your mouth, and wash it down with a small amount of frozen vodka. No shots–this isn’t a frat house. Besides, you won’t make it to the end of dinner. Then again, you may not care at that point!

I never learned how to play bridge, but I’m sure my Dad would be proud that I remembered this treat.

 

There are few things that make me happier than a plateful of really tasty chicken wings. If I watched football, I could easily finish a plate off within the first quarter of the game. I don’t though (watch football, that is) so let’s just say I can finish a plate off before the credits roll on the end of an episode of “Chef’s Table” on Netflix. That’s right…I’m bad.

I come from a long line of gnawers. Nothing is better than meat on a bone. A porterhouse is the ultimate steak for that very reason. So nothing bothers me more than someone who orders a plate of chicken wings and leaves all that tasty gristle and cartilage–along with some serious meat–behind. What is that? When I finish my wings, I walk my plate over to the trash can and drop a pile of surgically cleaned bones into the bag…not a bit left behind. One look at that pile of clean bones, and even my dog high-fives me.

Brining is a process where you soak a hunk of protein in a seasoned salt solution for a few hours. It’s a great way to add flavor and moisture to any cut of meat. I brined these wings for 3 hours before using a sweet and spicy rub. They can be grilled or roasted in the oven.

image

The brine…

1/2 cup Kosher salt
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 whole bay leaf
2 quarts water

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat until the sugar and salt dissolve. Remove from heat, and let it cool to room temperature.

The rub…

1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup sweet paprika
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated onion
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all the rub ingredients in a bowl.

Place 3 lbs. of chicken wings in a Ziploc bag and pour the cooled brine into the bag. Place the bag in a bowl to prevent leaks and place it in the fridge for several hours.

After a few hours, remove the chicken from the brine and dry the wings with paper towels. Discard the brine.

Place the chicken wings in a large bowl and sprinkle them with 1/3 cup of the rub, tossing to coat the chicken well. Place the bowl with the chicken in the fridge until ready to cook.

About 30 minutes before cooking, remove the bowl from the fridge and let the chicken come to room temperature.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 or light a grill.

Toss the chicken with some more of the rub, if you like, then place the pieces on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil or a wire rack. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until done. Lower the oven temperature if it starts to burn.

If you’re grilling, cook the wings over medium heat, turning frequently them to prevent burning. Cook until the wings are done.

Sometimes I’ll do a combination of the two and I’ll cook the wings in the oven until they’re almost done. Then I’ll throw them on a grill to get that smokey char on them, flipping them often to prevent burning.

 

I love my onions! Raw, sautéed, caramelized, yellow, Spanish, Bermuda, Vidalia, Texas Sweets, scallion, pearl, Crimini, Walla Walla…they can do no wrong. In fact, my wife and daughter gave me the Lithuanian nickname: “Ponas Svogūnas.” (“Mr. Onion.”) I answer to it proudly.

I also love my vodka martinis! So if I’m going to buy a top shelf vodka like Stoli Elit or Belvedere, I’m not going to ruin it with cheap vermouth, especially that nasty stuff they use to brine supermarket cocktail onions that come in a jar that’s been sitting on the shelf for about 10 years.

My first attempt at homemade cocktail onions was not a success. I bought pearl onions and did what the package instructions said: I dropped them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then moved them to ice water to let them cool. Then a gentle squeeze on one end of the onion would make it pop right out of its skin. Easy, right?

 

 

Well, it didn’t work out that way. For one thing, the onions got soft…not what I wanted. I had to cut one end of the bulb with a knife. And even then, when I squeezed the onion, the part that popped out was about half the size of the original onion…there was a lot of waste.

 

 

After brining, they tasted OK, but they never had that crisp bite I wanted. They were mushy. I realized that boiling was not the way to go.

 

A lot of waste.

I knew there had to be a better way. Then I discovered already peeled pearl onions at Whole Foods. I have to be honest…I won’t use any other onions now. They’re big, plump, and exactly what I want.

 

Sure, these are much larger than the onions you find in a jar. But tell me how that’s a problem!

 

Once that time-saving ingredient was in my possession, I took my own pickled asparagus recipe (https://livethelive.com/2018/05/16/pickled-asparagus-the-new-season-has-begun-4/) and used it with onions. Awesome results!

 

 

 

1 lb. pearl onions, peeled
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2  cups water
3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado cane sugar)
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt (per quart-sized Mason jar)
2 cloves garlic

 

Combine the white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, and peppercorns in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring it to a boil, making sure the sugar dissolves completely.

In a quart-sized Mason jar, add the teaspoon of salt and garlic cloves.

 

Pour a little of the hot vinegar liquid in the jar to dissolve the salt. Add the onions to the jar, then fill the jar to the top with the vinegar liquid.

Cover the jar tightly and turn it upside-down a couple of times to mix everything together.

 

Let the jar cool to room temperature, then move it to the fridge. You can use the onions as soon as the craving hits you, but they taste better if you give them a few days.

 

 

 

Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away. Time to talk turkey! No matter what method you prefer to cook your bird, brining it beforehand will make it tastier and juicier. And it’s easy to do.

It’s basic high school science: the brine has a greater concentration of salt and water than the molecules of the protein (in this case, a turkey) that is soaking in it. By simple diffusion, the protein molecules suck up the salty water and keep it. When you cook the meat, some of the water evaporates, but the meat still has far more moisture in it than it would have without the brine soaking, and the result is a moister, more delicious bird.

Some people use giant syringes to inject their turkeys with crazy solutions, but I think that the old way is still the best when it comes to brining. Get a big pot, fill it with the brine, and soak the bird in it. Done.

Here’s my tried-and-true turkey brining recipe. Once the brining is done, you can cook the turkey whatever way you like best. I use a method where I grill it inside a Weber grill with charcoal. It comes out smokey and absolutely amazing. I’ll have that info in my next blog.

You must brine a thawed bird, so use your favorite method to thaw your turkey so that it’s ready on Thanksgiving morning. Brining can take 4 to 6 hours, so start early!

For this recipe, you’ll need a large pot to boil the brine ingredients, and then a larger pot to hold the turkey submerged in the brine. I use a turkey no bigger than 15 lbs. for two main reasons: there are only 3 people in our family, and the Weber grill I use can’t handle anything bigger.

 

image

1 gallon of water
2 onions
3 carrots
3 stalks celery
1 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons whole allspice
4 bay leaves
1 gallon of ice water
14–15 lb turkey, thawed

Pour the first gallon of water in a large pot. Quarter the onions, carrots and celery (no need to peel them) and add them to the water. Add the salt, black peppercorns, brown sugar, allspice, and bay leaves.

Let the pot come to a boil for a few minutes. Remove it from the heat and let the brine cool down to room temperature.

Remove the giblets from the thawed turkey and place the bird in a container just big enough to hold it and 2 gallons of liquid.

Pour the now-cooled brine over the turkey, then pour in the gallon of ice water.

 

Make sure the turkey doesn’t float up by placing a plate on top. Put the turkey container in the fridge (or a cold garage or basement) for 4 to 6 hours, flipping the turkey over in the container halfway through.

Drain the turkey, rising off any spices that stuck to it, then pat it dry with paper towels. Now it’s ready to cook, using your favorite recipe.

Next time: my recipe for a fabulous turkey cooked on a Weber grill. It’s fast, requires no basting, and is absolutely delicious!

 

In the past, when I reached for the smoker, it was always for a slab of meat: brisket, pork shoulder, ribs. I’m surprised it took me this long to finally smoke some fish. What have I been waiting for?

Brining and smoking fish, in this case a hunk of wild-caught Alaskan salmon, is really not difficult to do at all: you brine the fish in a simple salt, pepper and sugar solution for a few hours, let the hunk of fish dry, then throw it in a smoker for a couple of hours. It’s really that easy. This method is called hot smoking, not the cold smoking you often see described on packages of store-bought salmon. Cold smoking is a process that takes days and requires equipment that most homeowners don’t have, and don’t need.

About the fish: I’m not a fan of traditionally cooked or poached salmon. I like it raw or I like it smoked. I never buy Atlantic salmon or any other farm-raised salmon because of the way they raise them: in large pens out in the ocean, fed food pellets and antibiotics, over-crowded and diseased, polluting the waters around them with waste.

Wild-caught fish are just that: they eat their natural food sources. They are not crowded so they don’t need antibiotics. And you can tell the difference when you look at the beautiful bright orange flesh. Does the good stuff cost more? Of course. Worth every bit.

Though I try to make sure all the small bones have been removed from my fish, I like to keep the skin on the filet, because it helps hold it together in the smoker. I always keep the fish cold in the fridge until it is ready to be brined.

 

salmon

 

For the brine:

1 gallon water
1 cup Kosher salt
1 cup organic raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the ingredients in a large pitcher made of glass or plastic and refrigerate until very cold.

When the brine is cold, remove the fish from the fridge and place it skin down in a glass or plastic container that will hold the filet without folding it over. Carefully pour the brine over the fish and make sure the fish is covered completely with the brine. If the fish filet starts to float, place a dish on it to push it down and then put the lid over the container. Place the container back in the fridge and brine for anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. (I always go for less than more. I’d rather have less salty than too salty.)

Once the fish has been brined, remove it from the container and rinse it well under fresh water. Pat it dry with paper towels and place it where it will get air circulating all around it. I use a small rack that stands an inch over a sheet pan. If you leave the fish out at room temp, do it for no more than an hour. Otherwise, it can stay in the fridge for up to 3 hours.

As the fish dries, it will form a shiny coat on the surface called a pellicle. This will actually help the smoke molecules adhere to the fish.

Start up your smoker. I use a digital smoker that runs on electricity, so I pre-heat to 220 degrees. When the fish has dried, I place it in the middle of the smoker and then add hickory chips to the smoker. I smoke the fish for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature of the fish is about 140.

Once it is smoked, I let the fish cool to room temp before I wrap it tightly and place it in the fridge for storage. Eat it within a few days…that should not be a problem!

Despite that corned beef is not an authentic Irish dish, it seems that everyone thinks they should eat it on St. Patrick’s Day. The phrase “corned beef” was actually coined by the British, and although the Irish were known for their corned beef throughout Europe in the 17th century, beef was far too expensive for the Irish themselves to eat and all of it was exported to other countries. Owning a cow in Ireland was a sign of wealth, and the Irish used theirs for dairy products, not beef.

The Irish ate pork, and a lot of it, because it was cheap to raise pigs, and they traditionally prepared something like Canadian bacon to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

In the 1900’s, when the Irish came to America, both beef and salt were more affordable, and the Irish, who lived in poor, tight-knit communities, often next to Jewish communities, bought much of their beef from Kosher butchers. And so many of the Irish learned how to corn their beef using Jewish techniques, but added cabbage and potatoes to the mix.

It takes about 3 weeks to make corned beef. But now that you know it’s not Irish anyway, that’s OK! (If you’re dying to have it on St Patty’s Day anyway, just buy yourself a supermarket slab this time, then make your own when the craving hits again.) Doing it yourself is not difficult. It just takes time…and you get a better final product.

Corned beef has nothing to do with corn. ‘Corning’ is a technique for preserving raw meats for long periods by soaking it in salt brine. This method was used in England before the days of commercial refrigeration. Back then, the large salt kernels used in the brine were called “corns.”

Brining is a time-honored way of preserving and it prevents bacteria from growing. Both pastrami and corned beef are made by this method. Both start with a brisket of beef. Corned beef is then cooked–usually boiled–and served. Pastrami is made when the brined meat is rubbed with more spices and smoked to add extra flavor. So corned beef and pastrami are the same meat, just treated differently.

Saltpeter is an ingredient that has been used in brining beef for years. It adds the traditional red coloring to the corned beef and pastrami meat. But since saltpeter can also contain carcinogens, I leave it out. The meat may not be the usual bright red color, but the flavor and texture of the meat will not be affected.

Brining the beef brisket

Brining the beef brisket

Step one: corned beef…

beef brisket (about 8-10 pounds)
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup warm water
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
3/4 cup salt
2 quarts water

Place the brisket in a large container made of non-reactive material, like glass or plastic.

In the 1/4 cup of warm water, dissolve the sugar, minced cloves, paprika and pickling spices.

Dissolve the 3/4 cup of salt in the 2 quarts of water. Pour in the sugar/garlic/paprika/pickling spices mix and stir everything together. Pour the mixture over the meat in the container. Make sure the meat is totally beneath the surface of the liquid. (You may need to weigh it down to do this.) Cover the container.

Refrigerate the container and its contents for 3 weeks, turning the meat once or twice per week. At the end of the third week, remove the container from the refrigerator and take out the meat. Soak the meat in several changes of fresh cold water over a period of 24 hours to remove the excess salt.

At this point, if you want corned beef, prepare and cook it using your favorite recipe. But I’m all about the pastrami!

Step two: making Pastrami…

pastrami

 

Brined and rinsed corned beef brisket from above recipe, patted dry with paper towels
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Combine the coriander seeds, black and white peppercorns and mustard seeds in a spice grinder and grind coarsely. Place in a bowl. Add the salt, paprika, brown sugar and granulated garlic. Mix well.

Rub the mix into the brisket well, covering all sides.

Heat your smoker to 225 degrees and smoke for several hours using a less intense wood, like oak. When the internal temperature of the meat has reached 165 degrees, it’s done. It isn’t necessary to smoke pastrami as long as you would a regular brisket because the long brining time makes the meat tender.

It is very important that absolutely everything that comes in contact with the meat is very clean. (This includes your hands.) Also, make very sure that every inch of the meat reaches the 165 degrees before it is removed from the smoker. The corned beef is now pastrami.