Corned Beef? Yes Please! This month's challenge was Brining. If you had told me just a couple of years ago that we could make corned beef, I would have thought you were crazy - that tender, melt-in-your-mouth-put-it-on-rye-with-nothing-but-mustard-and-a-crunchy-Strubs-pickle-on-the-side corned beef of my childhood! I was shocked by how easy it is.
- Buy Brisket. Ours came from NorpacBeef.
- Submerge in brine
- Refrigerate for 7-10 days
- Boil for 3ish hours in fresh brine
Our first instinct was to stick to your tried and true corned beef sandwich: something that needn't be improved upon and in our minds was truly the best vehicle for corned beef. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. How do we better the best sandwich? By adding cheese, gravy and fries! How could it be more obvious and Canadian. Corned beef poutine!
We would make stock, which would become our poutine sauce, as well as the squeaky cheese curds which make poutine the wonderfully special dish that it is. We'd rest the whole thing on a bed of homemade fries. Oh yes! We officially had an even more challenging challenge on our hands.
James: After a fair bit of research I found out what 'poutine sauce' is. It's basically a 1/2 reduced velouté. I didn't get around to the research until I'd roasted the meat and made the 12hr. beef stock (from a veal stock recipe). Back to Mr. Rhulman with The Elements of Cooking, which I happen to own, have read and quickly forgot. Jogged by the internet, I went back to my hardcopy for some pointers. He points you to one of Emeril's old recipes on the Food Network site. Beyond the basics, I think the most important bit is "Place the stock pot in the oven and heat it to between 180º and 200ºF… cook for at least 8 hours and up to 12 hours." Genius! Don't boil, gently warm all the flavour out of those tough, cheap chunks of crap.
As for the actual 'poutine sauce', I was sure ol' Martin Picard (The Wild Chef) would have included it in his food-porn fois gras manifesto Au Pied du Cochon: The Album. Nope. This considering it has a recipe for poutine in it! So, where better to get the goods than a website about poutine? There velouté is mentioned, and I remembered that I made it in Culinary I at George Brown. Yes! With the addition of a few more aromatics (thyme, bay), a roux and some salt we had turned a great stock into fine velouté.
R: We found a couple recipes for squeaky cheese curds that seemed simple enough. Suddenly, the mysterious and complicated process of making cheese seemed attainable. We diligently heated our milk to the correct temperature then added our lemon juice. As our milk began to (intentionally) curdle, a mix of excitement and disgust washed over us. A word to the wise: if you are making cheese, close your eyes while it curdles and don't breathe in. Blech. Sadly, our cheese did not turn into the poutine curds that we had been dreaming of. We were however, left with quite a lovely ricotta and since I have a tendency to complicate already complicated matters, I thought that come corned-beef-cooking-poutine-making-day, it would be a great idea to make an even bigger mess of the kitchen by baking a cheesecake with our failed curds. Here are the cheese cake and lemon curd recipes that we used. After two failed attempts at making our own, we had to admit defeat and go buy cheese curds from Chris' Cheesemongers.
I hadn't really anticipated that poutine-making-day would actually be rather torturous. When I arrived at James' place that afternoon, I could literally taste the corned beef that was wafting up the walkway. We had a lot of work ahead of us before we could dig in. Ricotta cheese cake, lemon curd topping, poutine sauce and fries all still needed to be prepared before we could taste our meat... le sigh. We motored through the day, cooking and shooting, shooting and cooking. Finally the time had come when the last, twice fried potato had emerged from the oil a french fry. We were about to discover what all the fuss was about.
J: I don't mind saying that the corned beef we made was the best I'd had, ever. The flavour from the spice blend in Charcuterie is unbelievable. Dear Ginger, thanks for making everything better...again.
R: I can honestly say that it's going to be tough to go back to restaurant made corned beef and poutine after this challenge. James' sauce was flavorful and complex yet subtle enough that it let our hero, the corned beef shine. It was the perfect compliment for our corned beef and crispy fries. I would absolutely recommend that you all run out and buy yourself a brisket to transform into corned beef, and if you are so inclined - poutine-ify it. You'll have no regrets. Trust me.
J: I guess the question still remains: What do you do with 4 1/2 lbs. of perfectly cooked corned beef & poutine? Have a French Canadian 'plaid only' dinner, with all your hungriest friends! Success topped with a curd-fail/ricotta-win cheesecake. The end.