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Put the brisket in a large, shallow bowl or dish. To make the curing mixture, use a pestle and mortar to crush the garlic, cloves, star anise, juniper berries, peppercorns, bay and thyme leaves until roughly ground. Stir through the sugar, followed by the cure mix, ensuring it has been accurately measured in proportion to the weight of the meat – follow pack instructions for guidance. Coat the brisket with the brining mixture, thoroughly rubbing it into the meat and any surrounding fat.
Put the brisket and any left-over brining mixture into a large freezer bag, zip it closed (squeezing out as much air as possible), then put into an airtight container and find a spot in the fridge. Leave to brine for 1 week, turning the brisket daily to allow the meat to cure evenly. You should notice some liquid in the bag after a day or two – this is a sign that the brining process is working.
The night before serving, remove the brisket from the freezer bag, wipe off any brine mixture and put it in a large pan. Fill the pan with cold water, put on a lid and leave the brisket to soak overnight.
The next day, drain the water from the pot and refill with enough fresh water to cover the brisket by about 5cm. Throw in the chopped onions, carrots and celery, as well as the garlic, thyme, sage and bay leaves. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and gently simmer the brisket for 2-21/2 hours (depending on the thickness). This breaks down the collagen in the meat, turning it into gelatin, resulting in the succulent, juicy texture you want for great salt beef. Cook for another hour if you prefer the salt beef to be almost falling apart when you bite into it.
Take the pan off the heat and nestle a sheet of baking paper on top of the water to keep the beef submerged and stop it drying out. Leave the salt beef to cool for 30 minutes, then lift out onto a chopping board (use the left-over broth as the base for a soup, if you like). Slice the salt beef thickly and load straight into bagels while still warm, along with as much mustard and as many dill pickles as you can handle. Any left-over salt beef will keep for a week in the fridge – wrap in foil and reheat in the oven at 180C/fan 160C/gas 4 for 15 minutes or until piping hot.
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