If you’re looking for a straightforward brining project with spectacular results, then have a go at making your own salt beef. It takes a week for the beef to brine, so it makes an ideal weekend activity, ready for you to enjoy the following weekend. And, seeing as you’ll need to be a little patient while the brining process does its thing, why not use the time to conjure up a couple of jars of homemade dill pickles?
What do I need to make salt beef?
To make the salt beef, you’ll need an airtight container and a zip-lock freezer bag large enough to store the beef brisket flat while it brines for a week. For the dill pickles, you’ll need two 500ml jars (such as Kilner jars) – one jar of pickles is enough to serve with the salt beef bagels, the other you get to keep as a storecupboard treat.
Salt beef recipe
- beef brisket 1.5kg, unrolled
- onions 2, roughly chopped
- carrots 2, roughly chopped
- celery 2-3 sticks, roughly chopped
- garlic 2 cloves, skins on, lightly bashed
- thyme 2 sprigs
- sage a few leaves
- bay leaves 2
- garlic 1 clove, peeled
- cloves 2
- star anise 1
- juniper berries 2
- black peppercorns 1 tsp
- bay leaf 1
- thyme 2 sprigs, leaves picked
- soft light brown sugar 20g
- salt beef curing salt 45g, (see notes below)
- bagels 8
- english or american mustard (depending on how hot you like it)
- dill pickles
Which curing salt should I use for brining?
The best way to guarantee that the salt beef will come out with that beautiful purple-pink colour is to use sodium nitrite – without it the salt beef will still taste good but, looks-wise, would end up a rather less appetising shade of grey-brown.
Traditionally, homemade salt beef was brined in a solution loaded with aromatics, salt and a little saltpetre (potassium nitrate), which did the same job, but these days several specialist websites offer pre-made curing salt mixtures (a combination of sodium chloride, otherwise known as table salt, and sodium nitrite) specifically for making salt beef.
The curing salt we used was from smokedust.co.uk and is meant for dry brining, but weschenfelder.co.uk and homecuring.co.uk also offer similar mixtures for wet brining. Both techniques produce great results but we find dry brining is less messy, takes up less room in the fridge and you don’t have to figure out the brine’s specific salt to water ratio.
Get experimenting with other spices to brine your beef
Feel free to try out different aromatics when brining the beef – some recipes include the likes of allspice, mustard seeds, ginger and even dried chillies. And when you boil the brisket, you could always chuck in some other veggies you might have sitting around, such as potatoes or cabbage – anything you add will make a subtle difference to the final flavour of the meat. As well as stuffing it into bagels, you can serve thick slices with potato salad or boil some extra root vegetables in the cooking liquor to eat alongside it.