How to Cook Corned Beef, with Aaron Rocchino

This is the second part of our two-part corned beef recipe by Aaron Rocchino of The Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley, California. Aaron’s a chef and a butcher, an advocate of whole-beast cookery, and the guy who provides meat to Chez Panisse, a block away from Aaron's shop. See part one for information on choosing the cut, making a corned beef brine, and the virtues of a slow (12- to 16-day) cure. Here in part two, Aaron makes a poaching brine and tells you how to cook and serve your very own corned beef.

You’ve cured it for 12 days, now you’re ready to cook that five-pound corned beef that's absorbed all the flavors from the brine. Start by lifting your beef out of the brining liquid, which you’ll want to discard. Transfer the meat to a pot, and add enough cold water to fully cover it by an inch or two.

You need a pot large enough to hold the meat without too much crowding, but not so large that it’s lost. Make sure whatever material it’s made of is nonreactive. At home, I use an oval earthenware pot that can go on a direct flame, but you can use a Dutch oven (an oval one is perfect), or, as you see in the photos, a large stainless steel pasta pot with a reasonably heavy bottom.

What’s up is to use cold water—you don’t introduce unwanted minerals that are in hot tap water, things that leach out of your water heater. So cold is the way to go.

Next, you’ll add aromatics to the poaching water. Just dump them into the water covering your beef:

4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 teaspoons coriander seed
10 allspice berries
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
4 whole cloves
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1/2 a medium carrot
1/2 a small onion
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 fresh bay leaves

You’ll notice there’s no salt. Since the beef has spent 12 days or more in the brine, you don’t need to season the liquid. And since some saltiness will leach out of the beef and into the poaching liquid, at the end of it you’ll have a perfectly seasoned broth you can serve with your corned beef.

Set the pot over medium heat, and bring it slowly to the boil. This whole process is about doing things slow, so you get the best texture and flavor from your corned beef. I’m a firm believer that good food takes time.

Once the liquid comes to the boil, reduce the heat to low and keep monitoring it. You want the surface of the liquid to tremble very gently in a few places—if you see a big, vigorous boil happening, reduce the heat to a very, very low simmer, uncovered. The cooking time is three to four hours. If you’re using eye of round, as we’re doing here, the meat’s internal temperature should register 160 degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer; if you’re doing brisket, you can let it go a little higher, between 180 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once it’s cooked, take the pot off the heat but leave the corned beef in its broth for an hour to cool down gently to a warm temperature—the texture will be better that way. Then remove from the liquid and slice. Strain the broth, and either serve it on the side in little bowls like a rustic consommé, or ladle a little of it over the corned beef and whatever you’re serving it with in shallow pasta bowls.

If you plan to serve cabbage with the corned beef, you can poach it in the strained broth after the meat’s done. Same with small, skin-on potatoes—a starchy variety like butterballs or Yukon Golds should be perfect. Chopped flat-leaf parsley adds a nice green, springy flavor, or mix parsley with grated lemon zest, like a gremolata without the garlic. Serve whole-grain mustard on the side. Whatever you do, you don’t want it to be too fancy.

Leftovers make great sandwiches. Heat up the broth and serve it on the side for dipping, the way you would for French dip.

Photos by Chris Rochelle