Saturday, March 15, 2014

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

I hope you'll join the Hawthornes
 in a delicious and traditional Saint Patrick's Day meal.

St. Patrick’s Day is coming up and the Hawthornes will be celebrating with a traditional meal of corned beef brisket and colcannon, which is a potato and cabbage dish, along with Blarney Puffballs, a fried potato concoction. 

 I’ll be making a special spicy rub for the meat and a glaze to finish it off.  The meat will be taking a three-hour sauna, during which time, I’ll change the liquid twice.  Changing the liquid during braising allows you to keep the flavor pumping back into the meat and lose some of the saltiness.

First, a little information about the brisket and the cooking method:
The brisket is the chest muscle of the cow and, since it gets a good workout from walking around and standing, is a tough but flavorful cut.  Lazier muscles, say a sirloin or tenderloin, are much more tender.  A tough cut needs to be cooked differently from a tender cut.  The method of cooking I’m using is called braising and it involves moist heat.  Tough cuts of meat, coming from areas of the animal that are continually exercised, have greater amounts of collagen than tender cuts.  Collagen is a connective tissue which holds the muscle fibers together and braising helps break down the tough collagen.  In braising, the meat is cooked in a liquid and covered.  This allows the collagen to dissolve into gelatin, allowing the meat fibers to separate easier, thus producing a tender piece of meat.

When meat cooks, the fibers shrink as water evaporates and fat melts out.  You’re losing both moisture and flavor, but the heat is dissolving the tough connective tissue.  With a tough cut of meat like brisket, one must find a cooking balance – long enough to break down the fibers and collagen, but not so long that the meat dries out.  This is done with a method like braising, a technique in which tough cuts are gently simmered in a deep pan with a little liquid.  The pan is covered, creating a steam bath.  Moisture surrounds the meat, but it’s much gentler than boiling.  Boiling occurs at 212°.  In braising, the temperature is lower, about 185°. 
This allows you to braise the meat longer because it doesn’t cook as quickly, giving it more time to tenderize.  Originally, corned beef was boiled to leech out some of the saltiness.  But the salt along with some flavor ended up in the water.  With braising, saltiness is released into the liquid, but the fibers are relaxed enough to reabsorb the liquid and reabsorb flavor.  As I said, I change the water twice.  By doing this, flavor is retained but I lose some of the saltiness

The butcher receives the whole brisket from meat processors and trims the briskets into point cuts and flat cuts.  The point cut is thicker and smaller.  It’s marbled with more fat and connective tissue than the flat cut.  There’s a lot of flavor here, but not as much meat since there’s a big slab of fat going through the middle. The flat cut is long and thin with a layer of fat on the bottom where you can’t see it.  Look for the flat cut, not the point cut.

Now, let’s get cooking!

Corned Beef Brisket
I usually get a 6-7 pound piece of meat. It will shrink quite a bit during the cooking process.  Remove the layer of fat off a flat cut brisket and trim off any other fat pieces.  Rinse the meat under cold water to wash off any curing salts.  Pat dry with paper towels.

Ingredients for the rub:
4 TB brown sugar
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
½ tsp cayenne pepper
Mix all ingredients together.

Sprinkle the spice mixture/rub over the meat and massage it in. 

Heat oven to 350°.

I use a clay pot for my briskets, but you could use a Dutch oven or any baking dish that you can cover and get a tight seal.

Place spice-rubbed brisket into your baking dish and pour 2 cups cold water down the side of the pan, being careful not to wash off any of the rub.  Cover tightly and bake for 1 hour.

After one hour, remove from oven, and pour out braising liquid.  Pour another 2 cups of cold water down the side of the pan. (If you’re using a glass baking dish, let it cool a bit before you pour the cold water in it.)  Cover and bake another hour.

After the second hour, remove from oven, pour out liquid, and add two more cups of water down the side of the pan.  Return to oven for the final (third) hour of baking.  Notice:  The brisket will have noticeably shrunk.  This is normal.

After the third hour, remove from oven, pour off liquid, and increase oven temperature to 450°.

Prepare the glaze:
½ cup brown sugar, packed
4 TB soy sauce
2 TB Dijon mustard
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp ground ginger
Mix all ingredients and brush the sweet-hot glaze over the corned beef.  Return to 450° oven and bake for 15 more minutes.  You end up with a lovely caramelized coating that’s a perfect foil against the spice and salt.

Let meat rest 10 minutes before slicing.

½ small cabbage, shredded
2 medium potatoes, diced
½ large onion, chopped
2 TB unsalted butter, melted
½ cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
6 pieces bacon, fried and crumbled
Fresh parsley
Sliced scallions
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Shred cabbage.  Drop into boiling salted water.  Reduce to simmer.  Cover and cook until tender.  About 10 minutes.  Drain cabbage, cover, and keep warm.  Reserve the cooking liquid for the potatoes.

 Peel potatoes if desired. I don’t bother since I like the peel. Dice the potatoes and cook until tender. 

While the potatoes are cooking, combine the chopped onions with the heavy cream.  Bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let steep for 15 minutes.

When potatoes are tender, drain, then mash.  Add the cream and onion mixture to the potatoes, mashing, and then stir in the cabbage.  Season to taste.

When plating the colcannon, make a small well in the center and pour in some melted butter.  Add the bacon crumbles and sprinkle scallions and parsley over top.  If you notice in my picture, I added a few shamrock leaves.  They’re edible and have a delicate citrus flavor.

Blarney Puffballs
 2 potatoes, cubed and boiled until tender
 2 TB butter
1/4 cup flour
1 onion
1 tsp baking powder
 1 egg
2 TB chopped parsley
2 ounces grated cheddar cheese
4 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients.  Place potato mixture in the refrigerator for about two hours, then take a melon baller and make little scoops of potatoey goodness.  Refrigerate while you make the breading.

1/2 hard-as-a-rock  baguette loaf,  processed into crumbs
1/2 pack Ritz crackers, crushed
Roll the potato balls in the bread crumb/Ritz mixture.
Heat oil to 350°.  Fry balls until nicely browned and drain on paper towels.

It's crisp on the outside with creamy, potatoey yumminess on the inside.

 I’ll guarantee you, if you make this, all eyes will be smiling, not just the Irish.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

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