Last week I included a recipe for homemade corned beef. This week's recipe is a suggestion for how to cook it.
But I haven't talked yet about what corned beef actually is, or where the name originated.
"Corning" beef is actually a method of pickling. The raw beef is soaked in a salty brine for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the recipe you use. (I opted for a few days, because that's the way I am.)
Salt inhibits the growth of bacteria. When the brining is done at a cool temperature (in this case, in the refrigerator), it acts as a preservative. Corned beef will store longer than raw beef.
Corned beef gets its name from the salt. When salt was commonly used in homes as a preservative, the kind of salt used was very coarse, with grain-size granules. In Old English, the granules were called "corns" of salt.
It's name might also refer to "corns" of saltpeter, which was often used as a preservative ingredient, too. Saltpeter (also an ingredient in gunpowder) is potassium nitrate. Alton Brown, popular Food Network chef, still recommends using saltpeter when making corned beef, but many people now use pink salt instead.
Pink salt used for brining is also called "curing" salt or Prague powder. It's not the same as Himalayan pink salt, which gets its color from minerals found near the salt. Curing salt contains sodium nitrite, which is a preservative similar to saltpeter.
Curing salt is an optional ingredient in the recipe I gave you last week. If you use it, it will give your corned beef the distinctive pink color that many people associate with corned beef. Curing salt is available at Yeager's Sporting Goods, 3101 Northwest Ave., in the section where their smokers and supplies are located.
In my corned beef, I chose not to use curing salt, so the color of the meat was grayer (the usual color of cooked beef) instead of the more traditional pink. The gray style is commonly called "New England" corned beef. Because the curing salt contains nitrites, and nitrites are somewhat controversial in terms of health, I tend to look for alternatives whenever possible.
Corned beef these days is usually made with beef brisket, a fat-marbled cut. Round roasts also can be used for corning, and that's what I did.
My round roast was large (6 pounds) and about twice as thick as a brisket, so I cut it in half a couple of days into the brining. Each half was a perfect size for cooking in a crockpot (see recipe below).
It was plenty of meat for a family meal, and enough leftovers for Reuben sandwiches with homemade sauerkraut the next day. Locavore bliss!
I'll definitely be making more corned beef in the future. I hope you'll try it, too. Corning adds a lot of flavor and requires very little effort.
BELLINGHAM FARMERS MARKET OPENS SATURDAY
Next Saturday, April 5, is another experience of locavore bliss - opening day of the 22nd season of the Bellingham Farmers Market at Depot Market Square, at Railroad Avenue and Chestnut Street in downtown Bellingham. At 10 a.m., Mayor Kelli Linville will do the traditional cabbage toss, the market bell will ring, and a new year of incredible local foods will become available direct from those who produce it.
Equally exciting is the new 2014 Whatcom Food & Farm Finder booklet, which will be available for the first time at the Sustainable Connections stand. The booklet, published by Sustainable Connections and updated every year, is a locavore's best friend. Be sure to pick one up!
AND FINALLY, A FINAL WORD ...
After more than four years, this will be the last article in the weekly Whatcom Locavore series. The Bellingham Herald has been a wonderful host for sharing what I've learned about eating as a locavore (eating only locally grown food, as much as possible). My definition of local food has been food grown anywhere in Whatcom County.
As a result of what I've learned writing these articles, I am in awe of the amazing service that local farmers perform for us every day. I have discovered the joys of having a farmer's name and face associated with every bite I feed my family, along with knowing firsthand the care that went into growing it.
I have experienced the incredible flavor that comes with truly fresh food. I also have found a deeper understanding of this particular place on the map, and have developed a deeper awareness and sense of community.
Though I won't be writing this column anymore, I'll still be eating as a locavore (there's no going back). I'm working on a Whatcom Locavore cookbook (hopefully available this fall - watch my blog at whatcomlocavore.com for updates), and watch for announcements about locavore classes planned for next year.
Many of the articles and recipes from this column will continue to be available in the Bellingham Herald online. Go to bellinghamherald.com and use the search tool to search for "locavore".
CROCKPOT CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE
2 large potatoes (Hopewell Farm, Everson)
1 onion (Terra Verde, Everson)
3 large carrots (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
3 pounds corned beef (homemade with beef from Second Wind Farm, Everson - see recipe online in last week's column)
1 small head of cabbage
Scrub the potatoes and carrots, then chop into chunks. I usually cut the carrots into 1- to 2-inch pieces, and cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch thick slices. Peel the onion and chop into wedges. Chop the cabbage into large wedges, too.
Place potatoes, carrots and onions in the bottom of a large crockpot. Rinse the corned beef in cold water and place it on top of the vegetables, fat side up. Add 1/2 cup of water (or local red wine).
Cook on low heat for 8 hours or on high heat for 4 hours. One hour before the dish is finished, add the cabbage wedges around the corned beef.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or email@example.com. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.