Like corned beef? Hate cooking it? Simmer it too long and it’s tasteless and falls to shreds, simmer it too briefly and it’s tough as leather. Boil it and it’s unspeakable. Our wonderful butcher shop pickles its own briskets and when properly prepared they are utterly delectable, but I’ve screwed up so many times I’m scared to buy one anymore, particularly at current prices.
Last week I gave in and bought a small piece that had been trimmed off a larger brisket, and was therefore left with a question. How the heck do you cook 2 and 1/2 pounds of raw corned beef? All the instructions I have are for a whole brisket, about four pounds. And on an internet search, I found the answer: braise it in the oven. According to its many advocates, this method is absolutely foolproof.
You need an oven, a roasting pan at least 3 inches deep (or a large dutch oven) and a roll of aluminum foil. Oh, and a ready to cook corned beef, nicely sealed up with all its pickling liquid and whatever spices are included. (And please, make it a brisket, point cut rather than flat cut. Lean is not a desirable quality in corned beef. If you like, trim off the visible fat after it is cooked, but you need it to be there for the beef to cook properly.)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. While it’s heating, put the corned beef in the bottom of the roasting pan with all the pickling liquid. Add the spice packet if there’s one provided, and pour in cold water to nearly cover the meat. Cover tightly with several layers of aluminum foil. (My two and half pound chunk was small enough to fit into Big Blue, my factory-second discontinued-color Le Creuset dutch oven, so I used that. The seal on the lid was plenty tight enough.)
Bake in the 300 degree oven for 60 minutes per pound. Slice against the grain and serve. That’s it. Works perfectly, every time, with any sized brisket. Or so the advocates claim. I’ve only tried it once, but my little piece of corned beef was exactly that. Perfect. This is how I’m doing it from now on.
While I was standing there holding the aluminum foil and trying to find a deep enough oven safe pan, I remembered innumerable Food Network programs where restaurant cooks braised all kinds of meat, including corned beef, exactly that way. Why had I never made that connection before?