This month’s Charcutepalooza Challenge was meat grinding.  Oh, I really became excited about this one.  I recently picked up a meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen aide and have been tapping into the meat lover within making loads of sausage and meatballs.  You see, my grandfather was a butcher and though my father chose another career, he is a meat enthusiast.  I come from the kind of family that doesn’t consider a meal complete without some form of meat. (That would explain why I was nearly disowned during my 6 years exploring vegetarian and veganism.)  But back to meat grinding, it is so easy and the product is sensational!

Last year, we began purchasing pork by the half-hog from our fabulous young cousin who raises them for 4H.  There are so many reasons to buy fresh, local, conscientiously-raised meat, not least of which is that the quality is superb.  For this challenge, I ground a pork shoulder and made chorizo following Michael Ruhlman’s guidance in Charcuterie.  Though I have made a number of different types of sausage, chorizo is one of the most satisfying.  I think that is because I generally have a difficult time finding a chorizo that I can still put in my cart after I read the ingredient label.  The concept of using an entire animal is a good one, though it seems factory-based sausage companies have a different idea of what is suitable for consumption than most home cooks do.  This chorizo is  deeply flavored, full of completely recognizable fresh ingredients including lovingly raised meat, and is super lean.

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My first Reuban Sandwich was a long time coming.  You see, I am still a bit of a recovering vegetarian.  From the number of meaty posts of late, I can see that my recovery is going well.  There is so much good, humanely raised meat to be eaten, but still I sometimes hesitate and by no means eat it daily.  So I was reluctant to sign on to the meat making challenge of the year, Charcutepalooza.  Though, my curiosity and drive to learn about this art of which I know so little forced me to sign on.  My first challenge- brining.

Brining is so easy, it is hard for me to think of it as true charcuterie.  It involves soaking meat, or other foods, in a salty solution for a time and then eating directly, or cooking.  The brine infuses the meat with flavor and moisture, transforming an ordinary cut of meat into something special.  The Saint Patrick’s Day staple of Corned Beef is a perfect example.  An ordinary brisket is soaked in a spiced brine and a week later emerges as a completely different beast, begging for cabbage and potatoes or to be made into a Reuban Sandwich.

Saveur magazine featured a recipe in their last issue for Corned Beef.  I omitted the pink salt (sodium nitrate), because I did not have that on hand.  Because of that, the brisket did not have the signature pink color of the supermarket corned beef, but the flavor did not suffer.  This recipe is definitely a keeper.  My husband commented that he didn’t think that he could bring himself to eat supermarket corned beef again.  We agreed that the natural brown color of the meat was actually more appetizing than the artificial looking pink that we tend to associate with corned beef. We loved the meal, but what I was really looking forward to was the leftovers, made into homemade Reuban Sandwiches.

For weeks I have craved a Reuban Sandwich.  Perhaps this is a normal post-St. Paddy’s Day leftover item, but for me it is my first.  Why I regularly crave foods I have never eaten, I do not know.  I do know the sandwich was delicious, and I will make it again.  Early in the morning, I mixed up dark rye bread dough, using a recipe from Bernard Clayton’s The Complete Book of Breads.  The flavor was well developed, but the dough never rose properly despite adding extra hours onto the recommended rise time.  I intended to share that recipe as well, but I will spare you the disappointment.  Luckily, the bread was still very enjoyable so I used it anyway.  It worked fine, but the sandwiches were small.

Putting together a Reuban is easy.  Heat up the griddle, grease it, and toast one side of your bread.  Flip the bread and top one side with Russian dressing  and corned beef and one side with swiss cheese (or I used Irish cheddar).  Top the meat with a pile of sauerkraut.  Flip the cheesy side onto the meaty side.  Press down with a heavy pan until sandwich is heated through and adheres to itself.  Eat and enjoy!

And so a new tradition is born, I can see many years of homemade corned beef and Reuban sandwiches in our future.  Even the kids have signed on, minus the sauerkraut.

Corned Beef

adapted from Saveur Magazine

serves 10

1 Tablespoon whole allspice
1 Tablespoon cloves
1 Tablespoon coriander
1 Tablespoon crushed red chile flakes
1 Tablespoon mustard seeds
1 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns
3 bay leaves, crumbled
1 1/4 cups kosher salt, plus more to taste
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon pink salt (optional)
1 5-lb. first-cut beef brisket

Toast the spices in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant.  Heat 8 cups of water, sugar, and salt until sugar and salt dissolve.  Refrigerate until cool.  Combine with 3/4 of the spices (reserve the rest for cooking the brisket) and pour over beef in a large container.  Weigh meat down with a plate so that it remains submerged.  Cover and refrigerate for 5-7 days.

Drain and rinse meat.  Place meat in a large pot with reserved spices and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 1 – 2 hours or until meat is tender.  Remove from water and slice thinly.  Serve with potatoes and boiled cabbage, or make it up into a Reuban Sandwich!

Here is a printer friendly version of the recipe: Corned Beef

Check out this other recipe for brining:

Herb Rubbed Pork Loin with Onion, Raisin, Garlic Compote

Corning Beef and My First Reuban Sandwich on Punk Domestics
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