Doing for oneself

posted in: Cooking | 1

I’m a crafty sort of fellow.  I make yarn, I fiddle with wood, I sharpen my own knives, change my own oil, etc.

I also cook. I’m pretty good at it. This is a good thing because a number of my partner have allergies, and food sensitivities. In addition my wife (and a number of our friends) keep kosher. Among the sensitivities we cope with is to aliums.  No Garlic, no Onions.  Those group of foods is ubiquitous.  Hard as it may be to contemplate life without them* there are entire swathes of prepared foods which are not to be had, for love, money, nor all the perfume of Araby. Salami?  Forget it.

So today I made corned beef. That is I took a slab of brisket and started corning it (I know, I blew the reveal),  It’s not hard. The only part which requires advance planning is the acquisition of “Prague Salt/Powder” Once you have that¹ you’re off to the races.

For plain preservation all you need is salt, prague powder, and water. For each gallon of water add 2 cups/.450 grams kosher salt³ and 1 oz/25 grams of Prague salt. 1/2 cup/100 grams of sugar (white or brown, as suits your fancy)

I also add some peppercorns and mustard seeds (toasted. The pepper until you can smell them, the mustard until they start to jump in the pan’ crack the pepper, and lightly bash the mustard).  A stick, or two, of cinnamon, some sichuan pepper, some long pepper, some cubeb pepper (so many things we call pepper). A few cloves, a few more allspice berries, a shake, or two of fennel seed.

Bring all to just a  boil, simmer for a few minutes, and remove from heat; at this point I add some fresh bay leaves; if you have dry, you will want to use a few more, and add them before the water is heated.

Cool the corning brine, and then place a nice piece of brisket into a ziploc baggie, surround the meat in brine; express the air and place in the fridge for a week to ten days. Remove from the brine, place in a water bath, and simmer until done (I like to add some carrots and celery to the water, but each to their own).






*Turns out it’s not that hard. Having spent most of the past few years with very little garlic in my life I can see why folks who hadn’t grown up with it were so resistant to introducing it to their food. It has made me much more finicky in my appreciation of it’s use, and even more resistant to things like oils, and powders.  Stale, or otherwise degraded garlics are foul as all get out.


¹For corning beef, making bacon, etc., you want Prague Powder #1. Prague Powder #2 also has sodium nitrate, and is what one uses to preserve thinks like genoa salami, which are done dry.  If you are worried about nitrites, don’t be. To cure meats (which, among other things prevents botulism²) you need some potassium nitrites. The “uncured” bacon, etc., which have become popular of late all say, “no nitrites added“. What they gloss is the celery extract the put in the brine, manufactures nitrites;often in a much high concentration than added nitrites. There are some differences. “Uncured’ usually has more salt, and a shorter shelf life.


²which is a real risk when working with garlic. Botulism is an anaerobic bacteria, and is not uncommon on garlic bulbs (for the same reason “rusty nails” are vectors for tetanus, a few inches below ground there is a lot less oxygen. Put a garlic clove which has some botulism spores on it into an anaerobic environment, and it breeds, which is why canned goods used to be so much more risky than they are now, but I digress.

³Forgive me this strange conflation of volume/mass. Salt is a bear to measure. “kosher salt” even more so.  How the crystals are made greatly affects the density. Just compare a cylinder of Morton’s table salt to a box of Morton’s kosher salt.  Moreover kosher salts vary a fair bit in density too. The rule of thumb is, roughly, 1×1.3 = table sale to kosher salt when swapping into a recipe.  Best to weigh your preferred brand of the latter to see what the precise difference is.





  1. Jenny Moser Jurling

    I did not know that about garlic and botulism! (Or else I’d forgotten, but I can’t imagine forgetting a fact that combines my favorite allium with microbiological danger.)


    Any time you wish to discuss tetanus or botulism, I will attentively read or listen.

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