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Corny

03/18/2013

Yesterday, we made a delicious corned-beef-and-cabbage dinner in the Crock Pot. The funny thing about the recipe we chose is that I ended up revising it on the spur of the moment and doing damage control before the potatoes were overcooked. So it ended up referencing multiple sources, and I learned a lot about how to make it easier next time.

cooked

Two rules I can impart up front, from both past and this experience:

1) Don’t use a bitter beer like Guinness Extra Stout. Any hoppy, biting beer will impart a weird flavor to your vegetables. And even if you elect to cook your meat alone, the broth will still be bitter. It seems like a good idea, but it can go horribly wrong and ruin everything. I just don’t recommend it. I’d consider a sweetish, malty beer, but not the hops-on-top kind. And I would never try it on company unless I’d tested it first. It’s much safer to stick to stock.

2) Don’t cook the potatoes with your meat. Or, add them halfway through. The problem is that the meat takes eight hours, and potatoes are done around four. Plus, your slow cooker probably isn’t big enough for all the vegetables you’d need anyway. You want the meaty-good flavors, I know, but you can achieve that in other ways, as described a bit later on.

The basic recipe is:
A 6-quart slow cooker
Corned beef (we used one at 3.5 lbs.)
A head of cabbage, cut in thin wedges
A big onion, or a couple
Small bag of carrots
A parsnip or turnip, optional
Potatoes for your crew (we had six)
Broth (4-cup box, maybe more; whatever kind you like)
Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Garlic (2 cloves)
Peppercorns and spices (see below)
Cook time 8-9 hours

The onion and a layer of potatoes, carrots, and a parsnip went in first. Next time, I’d skip the taters and cook them separately, as noted above. I had to pull out half these veggies to make room for the beef, which meant cooking them separately anyway. Carrots can stand the cooking time, and ditto on the parsnips. If you are short on cooking space, the onion is a must. And remember to leave enough room on top to add the cabbage later.

roots

Then place the corned beef on top, fat side up. You need to rinse the goopy brine solution off of your meat beforehand. Twice. We fit a 3.5 lb beef in a 6-quart slow cooker and surrounded it with more of the veg.

meat

Set aside a cup of stock and add the rest to the pot. I used chicken stock because we had it on hand, and low-sodium beef stock was scarce in the store. The corned beef is already loaded with salt, so I just went with what we had.

I honestly don’t think the amount of liquid is critical. I’ve seen recipes with very little, to others that completely submerged the meat. Ours came out perfectly, and it covered about a third of the meat. To me, “perfectly” means that when you cut the corned beef across the grain, you get a slice, not crumbled meat, firm but still tender and moist. If you’re concerned, buy two boxes of stock and add to a liquid level that you feel comfortable with. It also depends on the size of the cooker you have, the size of your cut, and whether you added veggies to fill space. It’s very subjective.

And now the seasoning:

Your beef—assuming you’re buying one “corned” vs. preparing it from scratch a week in advance—comes with a seasoning packet. If you need additional seasoning, or if something happens to the packet (which it did yesterday), this spice mix is easy to replace. I merged a bunch of recipe recommendations and wound up with a tablespoon of peppercorns, two bay leaves, two cloves of garlic, and 1/2 tsp each of allspice, cinnamon, and ground cloves. I should say that I do not like cloves in general, so I resisted adding that much, but the result was yummy and not overpowering at all.

So, drop the garlic and bay leaves into the pot. To the reserved broth add the ground spices and a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce. Stir thoroughly, and pour the mixture over the meat. Sprinkle the peppercorns over everything and cover. Cook on high for one hour, turn to low, and then cook all day. I would plan on eight hours total and put the cabbage in at seven. Otherwise, don’t open the pot.

peppered

So here is where the “additional seasoning” comes in. Remember when I said not to cook your potatoes with the meat? The next time I do this, I will make up two batches of spice (including the bay leaves, peppercorns, and garlic), use one for the meat/carrots and the other one for potatoes. If you’re worried about meaty flavor for the spuds, there’s always bacon, or a slice of the beef for a boost. We actually have four Crock Pots (!), so I’ll probably set up two.

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From → Crockpot, Food

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