Traditional Corned Beef with Salsa Verde

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Corned beef – beef preserved in brine – is such a classic, but our ideas of it are now very coloured by the tinned version. To do the real thing at home, it is important to get the right balance between fat and meat, and this is my interpretation of how it should be done. Because it has been used by terrorists in bombmaking, saltpetre has disappeared from most chemists’ shelves, but you might well be able to get it via your butcher or Internet suppliers.

Ingredients

  • 2 kg brisket of beef
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion, peeled and studded with cloves
  • 1 celery stalk, halved
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • Good bread, toasted, to serve

For the Brine

  • 200 g sugar
  • 200 g salt
  • 20 g saltpetre
  • 2 juniper berries
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10 white peppercorns

For the Salsa Verde

  • bunch of spring onions
  • cucumber, peeled and deseeded
  • 2 green peppers, peeled and deseeded
  • 1 tablespoon chopped capers
  • 1 tablespoon chopped gherkin
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mixed herbs, such as chervil, tarragon, parsley and chives
  • Good extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

At least 2½ days ahead, make the brine: put all the ingredients in a large pan with 2 litres of water. Bring to the boil, skim and simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

When the brine is completely cold, put the beef in it and leave to cure in the fridge for 48 hours.

At the end of this time, rinse the beef well under cold running water for about 20 minutes. Then put it in a large pan, just cover with cold water, add the vegetables, garlic and bouquet garni, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender to the touch.

Take the beef out of the liquid and set aside. Reduce the remaining stock by half and leave to cool.

When the beef is cool enough to handle, chop it into very small pieces. Now mix it with the stock, adjust the seasoning and put into a suitable crock pot or Kilner jar. Leave for at least a couple of days before using; it will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Just before you want to serve, make the salsa verde: chop the spring onions not too thinly and dice the cucumber and peppers to about the same size as the pieces of onion. In a bowl, mix these together with the remaining ingredients, adding just enough oil to bind the mixture together and create a chunky-textured salsa. Season to taste.

Serve the corned beef with slices of good bread, toasted, and the salsa verde.

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