Take a peek into most any Filipino’s pantry and you are just as likely to spy a can of corned beef as you are a bottle of fish sauce, banana ketchup, or vinegar.
Because the Philippines was an American colony from 1901-1946, American canned goods like corned beef, Spam, and condensed milk all made their way to the islands (along with other things). Ultimately, these canned goods gained popularity amongst Filipinos and have remained in Filipino cupboards ever since.
Canned corned beef, like Spam, is often enjoyed at breakfast by many Filipinos (myself included). The corned beef is usually sauteed in a bit of oil with some tomatoes, onions, and garlic (at least that’s how I roll) and served alongside the Silog duo of Garlic Fried Rice (Sinangag) and Fried Eggs (Itlog) for a hearty Corned Beef-silog breakfast
Although I do love dusting off the ol’ can o’ corned beef every once in a while, I decided to try my hand at making corned beef from scratch, you know, with it being St. Patrick’s Day and all. So with the help of a nitrite-fortified brine (whoa, sound the nitrite alarm!), I was able to magically transform a beef brisket into a beautifully RED corned beef that was enjoyed on St. Patty’s Day with cabbage, potatoes, and carrots (Irish), and then the very next day with Garlic Fried Rice and eggs (Filipino).
To make my corned beef, I relied on the recipe from Michael Ruhlman‘s excellent book, Ratio. All you have to do is soak a fresh beef brisket for 4 days in a brine made with salt, sugar, spices, and a little bit of Pink Salt (AKA sodium nitrite, AKA curing salt). The pink salt not only lends flavor, but it also enables the meat to remain a nice reddish pink color even after it’s been cooked for a long period of time. You can easily order pink salt online from Butcher & Packer and other such internet sources. I actually found my curing salt at a local hunting/outdoor sports store (whilst I was shopping and preparing for the zombie apocalypse, natch).
Although there may be some of you out there hesitant to use nitrites or nitrates in your food, they are very safe to consume in moderation (nitrites and nitrates are what make bacon, bacon). To read more about nitrites and nitrates, Ruhlman has a very informative post here.
And if you’re still leery of pink salt, then, by all means, leave it out of your recipe. You don’t have to use pink salt to make corned beef–the resultant corned beef will turn gray after cooking instead of remaining red, but it will still taste delicious. But to me, corned beef ain’t corned beef unless it’s red. And that’s the beauty of making your own corned beef at home–you know exactly what’s going into it and you can control the ingredients yourself.
Anyways, after the brisket has brined for a few days in the refrigerator, it is rinsed off and then gently simmered in water for 2-3 hours until fork tender. With hints of clove, cinnamon, and allspice, the resultant beef is juicy, tender and worlds better than the stuff in a can, and even better than the corned beef you’ll find at most delis. After my first crack at home-cured corned beef, I’ll definitely try to make it at least a few times a year and not just once a year for St. Patrick’s Day.
In fact, although I used the recipe from Ratio this time around, I’m already eyeing this quicker rendition that uses inexpensive chuck roast instead of pricey brisket (I wish I had seen that post a week earlier!). For my next Corned Beef experiment, I may try a Corned Beef Sinigang–which has become popular in Manila over the last few years. But until then, I still have some Corned Beef left over for more Corned Beef-silog, and a Reuben sandwich or two.
Adapted from Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio
2 liters water (half gallon)
12 grams pink salt (about a 1/2 ounce)
25 grams sugar
10 cloves garlic, flattened with the flat side of a knife
50 grams kosher salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon whole allspice
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick, crushed or broken into pieces
6 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole cloves
½ teaspoon ground ginger
2.5 pounds beef brisket
Combine the water, pink salt, sugar, and garlic in a pot large enough to also hold the brisket. Combine the rest of the seasonings in a small bowl, then add half of this mixture to the pot and reserve the other half of the seasonings.
Place the pot over high heat and bring the liquid to a simmer (the brisket is still not in the pot, you are only making the brine at this point). Stir until the sugar and salts have dissolved and remove the pot from the heat. Allow the pot to cool to room temperature, then place the pot into the refrigerator overnight so that the brine is completely chilled.
Place the brisket into the cold brine, then cover and refrigerate for 4 days, flipping the brisket over half-way through.
Remove the brisket from the brine, discard the brine, and thoroughly rinse the brisket in cold running water.
Place the brisket in a large pot and pour in enough water to just cover the brisket. Stir in the reserved spices then place the pot over high heat. Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover and gently simmer over low heat for at least 3 hours, or until the brisket is fork tender.
During the last hour and a half of cooking, I added some peeled carrots cut into large chunks and quartered red potatoes to the pot and continued to cook for another 1 hour 30 minutes (time will vary depending on the size of your veg). During the last 15 minutes of cooking, I also added some roughly chopped cabbage to the pot.
After 3 hours, I strained out the brisket and veggies. I then sliced the brisket and served everything with yellow mustard.
The following day, I lightly browned some of the leftover brisket slices in oil and served with garlic fried rice and eggs.