Monday, March 18, 2013

Nitrate Free Corned Beef

by Kelly

Nothing says St. Patrick's Day more than green beer and drunken altercations in Chicago bars. Lacking that, however, the aroma of corned beef and cabbage makes a good substitute.

But nothing is ever as simple as it looks.

Quick back story: my husband despises the diet his gout forces him to live with, and constantly seeks ways around it. There are certain things that will trigger a gout attack, namely anything that contains sodium nitrate, a preservative commonly found in lunchmeat, sausage and many other yummy things...including corned beef.

So I suggested that we make our own, without the 'bad salt' that he has to avoid. The only reason I made this crazy offer was because I was confident, without doing any research, that there would be a recipe on the Internet.

And guess what...I was right. In fact, there are quite a few different versions, some with remarkable variations including juniper berries, beet juice and possibly the simplest one.

We chose this one, from Simply Recipes. Of course, we didn't have half of the spices required, but luckily the spice fairy came to our rescue and mailed us the rest (thanks, Dawn!).

Toasting spices is quite an adventure in its own right, or at least it is for those of us who've never done it before. Make sure you have the window open, so you don't asphyxiate yourself. Also make sure that all pets are out of the room, because when tiny mustard seeds are popping out of the pan like crazy they will be right under your feet trying to find out what on earth you're doing, and you may step on them and possibly drop your last clean spatula and say a very dirty word.

After the spices are burned toasted, add them to the water with salt and sugar and make your brine. Then it's just a matter of adding the meat and patiently waiting for five to seven days (we chose seven, with good results). Turn the meat once a day. If you have a pet, every day they will nose in to find out what you're up to. Ignore them.

Then cook. At this point, we altered the recipe slightly. At my mom's advice, we added a raw beet to try to get the pink color that will be lacking without that sodium nitrate. We also didn't add the cabbage and potatoes, because the one thing my husband hates more than a restricted diet is being told that vegetables are part of the recipe.

Three to five hours later, depending on the patience of your other family members, remove the meat and slice.

Make sure to cut across the grain, or the meat will shred into little bits and not make good sandwiches.

If you have pretty, restaurant quality plates, please feel free to use them. The rest of us will keep it real with the standard paper kind.

And the end result was very gratifying. The taste was spot on. The beet, however, gave mixed results. The meat was slightly pink when first cut, but rapidly turned the color of good Gyro meat. My husband suggested that we add beet juice to the brine next time.

Next time?? We'll see....

Also, the beet didn't taste like corned beef at all. My mom said it tasted like boiled beet. The rest of us didn't try it.


  1. Sounds like a big success! We enjoyed the good old-fashioned nitrate version with cabbage! Yum. Of course because when you're suddenly aware of something (like corned beef spices) you start seeing it everywhere, I noticed this in my Penzey's spice catalogue. May be worth a shot -

  2. My husband actually suggested that we make up bags of corned beef spices and sell them. Darn, someone took that idea...guess I won't get another chance to burn spices on the stove again. That's a shame :)


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