Over the last 25 years I have cooked a lot of corned beef around this time of year (I’m not really sure why). Years ago I had a patron that would have me cater a party for close friends at his house ( the house had previously belonged to an executive of Playboy magazine and was the site of a photo shoot…just a little tidbit). I always got raves about my corned beef and did not understand why – I mean, I know it was good, but it was so simple. One particular year I asked one of the guest who was raving about the corned beef to describe their corned beef and their method of preparation. What they described shocked and appalled me. They said their beef always came out stringy and tough (does this sound familiar?). They said all they did was boil it for 2 to 3 hours. This is the problem.
Even though we call it New England Boiled Dinner you do not boil it! The right way to do it is so simple…once the water boils turn the heat down so that the water is simmering. To determine if the water is simmering either take the temperature with a thermometer or look at it. Simmering water will have an obvious convective motion in it, you will see the circulation and only a few occasion bubbles. This occurs at about 200°F. In addition to simmering for somewhere between 2 and 3 hours I also put a plate on top of the corned beef to make sure the meat stays submerged in the water which should be seasoned with salt, pepper, cloves, bay leaves, allspice, coriander and mustard seeds (usually found in the spice packet that comes with most corned beef these days). I always add extra spices to make sure the flavor is pronounced about 1 tsp of each, you certainly do not have to do that if you don’t want to but it may add that little bit of extra flavor that will make you the envy of the neighborhood.
I mentioned that the cooking time is between 2 and 3 hours because I really can’t narrow it down any closer than that. The meat is done when a two pronged fork pierces the meat and withdraws easily. I have never had a piece of meat cook faster than 2 hours or slower than 3 hours. I start checking the meat at 2 hours and it is often done within 30 minutes of that first check. Then I let the meat rest in the water for about 30 minutes before I cut it, but there is one more trick you can do to make your corned beef incredible…glaze it with a mixture of brown sugar and mustard and pop it in a hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes, just until the glaze gets all bubbly and thick. Then let the meat rest for 15 minutes before slicing.
2 Tbsp dijon mustard
4 Tbsp brown sugar
Mix and pour over the corned beef (or try it on ham…yum!)