Photos by Donna
It began with pickles. I'd bought a quart of small cukes to pickle with tarragon but I wasn't thinking as I made the brine. I wanted some spice in there so I added black peppercorns. Then, here is the not thinking part, I put in a load of coriander seed, then the tarragon, but as I smelled the brine coming up to heat, it was clear that pepper and coriander would completely overpower the tarragon, and simply don't belong together. So I removed the tarragon. Donna arrived just then and said, "Mmm, smells good in here. Like corned beef."
Having ruined the brine for the pickles (using the standard 5% brine ratio from Ratio, bien sur), I thought let's put it to use with what pepper and coriander were made for. I'd bought some short ribs intending to cure them with a dry rub to see how that worked, but now that I had a brine with corned beef seasonings, it would be a pickle instead. I'd bought them specifically to make corned beef/pastrami, normally made with brisket. But briskets are big and expensive and I wanted small portions. Also the brisket nowadays is so lean it can become dry. I wanted to use a well marbled cut, and short rib seemed perfect. (I thought I was being particularly clever, here, making corned beef out of short ribs, but apparently Asianjewishdeli has been doing it for months! Rats!)
The fact is, you can corn any cut of beef if you want, doesn't have to be brisket. The key ingredient is the pink salt, sodium nitrite, which keeps the meat vivid red even after cooking, and gives the beef its distinctive corned-beef flavor. So I simply added a half teaspoon of that to the brine, chilled it and submerged several boneless beef shortribs in the brine and left them for a few days.
I love the smoky spicy flavor of pastrami (corned beef coated in black pepper and coriander and smoked). To get this effect at home, without relying on a smoker, I grilled them over a hot fire. After grilling, they needed to be tenderized which we do by slow cooking. Corned beef is typically cooked in court bouillon, but I wanted to keep all the flavor in the abundantly seasoned meat. So I wrapped them in foil with a little water to make sure the environment was moist and cooked them for a few hours in a 200 degree oven.
The result: exquisitely juicy, flavorful pastrami that's easy to do at home. Several steps, yes, but all of them easy.
How did I prepare the pastrami? Neo-Reubens. Pastrami, sauerkraut, gruyere, with a mayo spiked with sriracha sauce, sandwiched between English muffin halves and cooked in a skillet. English muffin makes the perfect portion size for such a rich sandwich, we had with chips and beer. The hardest part of this preparation was waiting for Donna to finish taking the picture so we could eat.
There's a complete corned beef recipe in Charcuterie, which includes mustard seeds, allspice, mace, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, all of which are fantastic, but all I used for this brine was peppercorn, coriander, garlic, pinch of ground cinnamon, and chilli flakes, and importantly ½ teaspoon of pink salt for about two cups of water (if you don't know about pink salt, there's more info at the bottom of this post). Pickle your beef for a few days in the fridge, coat with a mixture of equal parts peppercorns and coriander seed roughly cracked or chopped, grill them, then slow cook in foil as described above. After tasting these, I can't imagine ever using brisket again. Corned beef short ribs are fabulous.