Corned Beef and/or Pickled Tongue
For the Brine:
- 1 beef brisket, 4-5 pounds, (if fatty, trim a bit), tied into a roast shape
- 1 beef tongue, about 3 pounds, well scrubbed and rinsed in cold water
- 6 quarts water
- 3 pounds sea or kosher salt
- 1 pound organic, unbleached sugar or brown sugar
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 6 whole cloves
- a few sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 bouquet garni (made from 1 cleaned leek leaf or a piece of cheese cloth folded and tied around several black pepper corns, 2 bay leaves, several sprigs of fresh thyme, several sprigs of fresh parsley)
- cold water to cover
- 2 small or 1 large leek, roughly chopped and well washed in cold water to remove grit
- 2 small or 1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 small or 1 large stick of celery, washed and roughly chopped
- 1 small or 1/2 large bulb of garlic, broken into cloves and peeled
To Brine the Meat:
Prepare the brine. Put the water, salt, sugar, bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves and thyme in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Allow to bubble a few minutes until the salt and sugar have dissolved completely, then remove from the heat and allow to cool before proceeding with the recipe.
Meanwhile, prepare the pieces of meat, by trimming them if necessary, and tying the brisket. The rough skin of the beef tongue may need to be scrubbed with a a soft brush to clean it up, but don’t go too crazy as the skin will be peeled off after cooking. Also, at the “root” of the tongue (the opposite end from the tip) there may be two small bones, the remnants of glands and some gristly bits; these should be trimmed away and discarded.
When the brine is cool, pour it (along with the herbs and spices) into a non-reactive container, like a large ceramic crock or bowl, that is large enough to also hold the piece(s) of meat. Submerge the brisket and/or tongue completely in the brine, weighing it down with a plate, sealed jar full of water or other non-reactive object so it stays beneath the liquid. Cover the container with a plate, lid or plastic wrap and place it in a cool place (the refrigerator is fine if there is room, otherwise in winter a cool – 40 degrees or below – but not freezing spot in a shed, garage or porch will do.
Leave the brined meat to soak for five days, turning it occasionally so that it cures evenly. On the sixth day, remove the meat from the brine (discard the brine), rinse it, then submerge it in a container full of cold water for 24 hours, changing the water once or twice during this time.
Remove the meat from the rinse water and place it and the remaining ingredients in a large, heavy, non-reactive pot and just cover with cold water. Place over medium heat just until the water begins to simmer. Cover the pot and turn the heat to low.
Cook the meat very slowly, just at the simmer, until it is very tender and easily pierced with a small knife. Depending on weight, this will take about 3-3½ hours for the brisket and 1½-2½ hours for the tongue (see note).
The corned beef may be sliced and served immediately. If you’d like to serve it later, place the beef and enough stock to cover it in a storage container, then chill it quickly by placing the smaller container into a larger container filled with ice and water (be careful the chilling water doesn’t spill into the stock). When cooled, place in the refrigerator where it will keep for several days.
For the tongue, remove the tongue from the poaching stock and place it on a plate or
cutting board and let it cool until it is still warm but can be handled. Using a small paring knife to get started, peel the rough skin off the tongue and discard. There is a second layer of skin beneath this which may or may not need to be peeled depending on the size of the tongue. If it seems very thick, use the paring knife to scrape it off, too. The tongue is now ready to be served or may be chilled in the same way as the corned beef (above).
To serve corned beef that has been chilled, heat some of the stock in a skillet, slice the corned beef thin or thick as desired, then place in the simmering stock just until warmed. Serve immediately. Tongue is good sliced thin and served cold, or it may be sliced thin and reheated in the same manner as corned beef.
This will make more than enough for the recipe above. Use the remaining meat for sandwiches, etc.
Note: Alternately, the tongue may be par-poached for about 1 hour, cooled until it can be handled, peeled (as described above), then seasoned as desired and grilled (as you would a large sausage) or slow smoked to an interior temperature of 150 degrees.