Top tips for the best salt beef. To get the best from your brisket, read on...
At the turn of the century, when Mr Y and I had only been courting for a few months, we visited who were to become his 'outlaws' for Sunday brunch. As a recent import from the USA he was desperate for some 'proper' deli food; which for us was rather like coals to Newcastle. Wanting to please her potential son-in-law, my mother laid on a spread worthy of the Carnegie Deli. The crowning centrepiece was a steaming lump of salt beef surrounded by cocktail viennas, platters of roast beef, roast turkey, smoked turkey, salami...you get the picture...and enough rye bread, beigels, pickles, salad and condiments to feed the five boroughs not just Manhattan. It was a no-holds-barred Sunday scrum, with the entire family munching and yelling their way through the nibbles and some rather excellent, if a tad spicy, Bloody Marys. Mr Y was jonesing for a 'corned beef on rye', so got the wherewithal to create what was to be the stuff of legend. Thus began the construction: a thin layer of mayo on the bottom for waterproofing, topped with sliced sandwich pickles courtesy of Mrs E. Next came the artfully draped, beautifully carved slices of hot, tender and juicy beef and then...he reached for the Colmans English mustard. Digging in with a knife, he proceeded to slather the top slice with enough mustard for the entire piece of brisket! The assembled company fell silent, mouths agape and hardly daring to breathe, one of the nephews squeaked: "He must really like Mustard auntie Rah!"
One bite was all it took, as he chewed his eyes started to bulge alarmingly and stream with tears; choking and spluttering he reached for the nearest drink...a very spicy Bloody Mary! Not having lived here long. at the time, my best beloved thought that Colmans was equivalent to American mild yellow mustard...oh how we laughed! Below are a few hints, tips and tricks to get the most out of your salt beef which first appeared in The Jewish Chronicle:
No time to brine? Buy pickled brisket to boil. Choose a piece with some fat for best flavour and moisture.
Buy a minimum of 1.5kg — even if for only two or three diners. The meat will shrink by at least a third.
Take the meat from the fridge at least an hour before cooking — your water will come to the boil faster.
Place the beef in cold water, bring to the boil and skim off any scum. Keep a bowl of cold water to dip your skimming spoon in and scum won’t stick to the spoon or bowl. Add veggies and herbs post-skim, so you won’t have to dodge around them when de-frothing.
Keep the water at a rolling simmer and a filled kettle close. Top up the pan with boiling water, not cold which drops the temperature.
Start checking it’s done after two hours. It’s easiest with a long pronged carving fork or a long metal skewer. Plunge it into the thickest part of the meat — it’s ready when you can pull the fork or skewer out with no resistance. If you feel a tug, give it 20 minutes and check again.
Like any cooked meat, it needs to rest. About 10 to 15 minutes before you want to serve it, place the drained beef on a board, covered loosely in foil. (Keep the liquor for reheating.)
To avoid the meat crumbling, carve against the grain. Your butcher can show you by drawing a direction arrow on the packaging. Take a photo before you throw it away!
It’s easier to cut warm rather than boiling hot, but virtually impossible once fridge-cold. If you prefer, slice in advance, when warm, then stack the slices closely in a dish, pour over a cupful of cooking liquor, cover tightly with foil and heat for 20 minutes at around 170°C.
Got leftovers? Portion the meat and wrap in greaseproof, parchment paper or clingfilm, then tightly wrap in foil. Freeze cooking liquor separately in plastic tubs to reheat as above. It will keep three days in the fridge and six weeks frozen.
You’ll find several salt beef recipes on the JC website.