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In a Pickle

Very little compares to a good corned beef sandwich: served warm, thinly sliced, with spicy brown mustard on rye, please.  Spoken like a true New Yorker.  My dad insisted the meal was only complete with Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray and a sour pickle on the side.  He would not be alone in voicing strong opinions as far as corned beef is concerned, a meat which has truly become a mainstay in the Jewish delicatessen experience.

What is “corned” beef anyway?  “Corns” of salt, large rock-salt kernels, were used to cover the meat in what is one of the oldest forms of food preservation.  In fact, the term “Corned” first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary as early as 888 AD!  A simple brining process creates a transformation — firming, preserving and pickling the meat.   The unique, cured flavor that is imparted to the meat bears little resemblance to its un-cured former self, savory and piquant with each bite. Though corned beef was originally an Irish invention intended to preserve meat for travel, its flavor and taste have been celebrated in Jewish-American cooking for well over a century.

Serving glazed corned beef became a popular in the 1950’s, writes Joan Nathan in Jewish Cooking in America, as a “Jewish rendition of glazed ham….where glazed ham was always a centerpiece at holiday buffets, and to avoid serving the forbidden pork themselves, Jews would coat a cooked corned beef with dark corn syrup,…and then bake it as they would a ham.”  Surely graduating this dish to a more elegant status was one of the smartest moves we could make. The delectable contrast of salty-sweet that is found in a sweet glazed corned beef is even more satisfying than the aforementioned deli sandwich.

Nowadays, making corned beef is a very easy thing to do, as butchers today have simplified the process for us.  Whereas in yesteryear, pickling your meat took several days, butchers now sell cuts of meat that have already been pickled and are ready to go – pickling spices included!  You can pickle just about any cut of meat, but the most popular cut for corned beef has always been first cut brisket.  Long, slow simmering (not a hard boil!) will yield both tender results and a leftover cooking  liquid perfect for cooking or moistening any desired accompanying vegetables that can be served alongside the meat (fantastic for cabbage!).

This robust glazed corned beef recipe packs a punch.  Be sure to grab a glass of your favorite Irish red beer and enjoy every bite.

Whiskey Glazed Corned Beef

Molasses provides the gooey sweetness and unmistakable flavor in this recipe. Both unsulphured original and robust varieties of molasses are available in markets.  I recommend using “Original” for this recipe,as “robust”  will lend too strong of a flavor to the dish.

Serves 6.

1 4-lb. corned beef brisket
1 onion, peeled
1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
1 stalk celery, cut into chunks
1 orange, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 bay leaves
7-8 black peppercorns
1½ tsp. pickling spices
½ cup unsulphured molasses
¼ cup whiskey (I use Jack Daniels)
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard

Place the corned beef in a large pot and fill with cold water – enough to cover meat by a few inches. Place pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Discard water and refill with fresh water.  Repeat the above steps two more times (discarding the water removes the impurities that have been released from the meat).

Fill with cold water once more, and add onion, carrot, celery, orange, garlic and spices.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, maintaining a simmer.  Cover and simmer for about 2-3 hours, or until tender when pierced with a fork.  Transfer corned beef to a large baking dish.  Discard cooking liquid (or save, if desired, for other uses, such as cooking or moistening vegetables).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine molasses, whiskey and mustard in a small saucepan.  Place over medium-low heat and bring to a boil, whisking until ingredients are completely blended.  Pour sauce all over corned beef.  Bake for 15 minutes; baste liberally with sauce and then bake for an additional 10 minutes.  The reduced glaze should be thick and gooey.   Remove from oven and allow to cool.  For best results, use a sharp, non-serrated knife to make very thin slices.  Arrange slices on a serving platter, and serve with remaining sauce on the side.

Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross


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