Pickled Pink

New York City

GUEST: Taxicab Driver

AB: [gets into a cab] Hey.
TAXICAB DRIVER: Where to, pal?
AB: Uh, LaGuardia. Thanks.
TD: You got it. Say, aren't you that guy with the show?
AB: Eh, maybe.
TD: Hey, you're that "Good Meats" guy!
AB: Aw, actually ...
TD: Aw, man, I love meat. You know, if I wasn't a hack, I'd be one of them professional meat eaters.
AB: Yeah.
TD: I ate a hundred chicken wings in a row once. Harder than it sounds, but ...

[the cab apparently hits something]

TD: [yelling] Hey! I got a celebrity in here! Heh heh heh. Eh, Tourists! They think they own the whole sidewalk.
AB: [trying to appease] Yeah.
TD: Eh, you don't mind if I chow down, do 'ya?
AB: No, no, no, no ...  Hey. Is that corned beef?
TD: Aw, yeah, you gotta have this.
AB: Yeah?
TD: Aw, yeah!
AB: [take a bite of the corned beef sandwich, obviously enjoys it]
TD: Good, huh? My cousin owns a deli downtown. The best corned beef in the city. I don't care where you're flying off to, you ain't gonna find better corned beef than that. No offense.
AB: Oh, none taken. Besides, you know, it was here in New York City where they really perfected corned beef and the whole delicatessen concept at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, amidst all that, um, er, inter-ethno-culinary melting pot.
TD: Eh, all I know is, the further I get away from this city, the less likely I'm gonna find a decent sandwich. Unless ...
AB: Unless what?
TD: Unless you know how to make your own. I mean, take my cousin.
AB: That's not a bad idea.
TD: [laughing] Eh, he ain't your type.
AB: No, no, no, no, I mean making your own corned beef. It's really not that hard once you get the basics.
TD: [turns around to look at AB for the entire next line] No foolin'?
AB: Mmmm. You get the proper cut of meat, you get some good solid technique, and a little bit of time, and this is one great meat that can be really ... 
BOTH: Ahhhh!

[the cab is apparently is about to hit something]

["Good Eats" theme plays]

Harry's Farmers Market
Marietta, GA – 10:15 am

GUEST: Rabbi

    [is underneath a model of a cow] While you might run across a few corned rumps around, true corned beef is always made with brisket. Now the brisket is the front portion of the breast that lies between the legs, right underneath the chuck primal. Think of it as the steer's, I don't know, front axle. Now given the location, this is obviously a well-worked hunk of muscle or two muscles, actually. And that means that the brisket is a tough, but very flavorful cut of meat, best suited to long, slow cooking methods, like, say, Texas barbeque. Brisket: very important in Texas.


    Another place you'll find brisket is in a Jewish kitchen. It seems that, even though the bovine critter is considered Kosher, certain parts of it ...  [unknowingly pats the model's utter] eww  ... are not. Which ones? Um, ...


AB: Is there a rabbi in the house?
: I'm a rabbi.
AB: Ah, excellent. Tell me, teacher, what on this critter isn't Kosher?
R: Well, any cut of beef containing the sciatic nerve and the adjoining blood vessels, which runs through the hind quarters there, is not, strictly speaking, Kosher.
AB: Excellent, excellent. Well, that's good news for us, because the brisket is about as good as good eats gets.

    [now at the meat display case] Hmmm, let's see. Eeeny meeny miney mo. Arrgh!

AB: My good man, I need a brisket.
BUTCHER: Okay. Would you like a whole one, a point cut, or a flat cut?
AB: Um, what's the difference?

B: Well, a brisket is made up of two cuts. There's the larger and leaner flat cut, and then the triangular-shaped point cut. Now the point is only about half as big as the flat, but, because of all this extra fat, it cooks up nice and juicy. Flat Cut
Point Cut

AB: Got it. So which would you use for corned beef?
B: Well, for corned beef, uh, a whole brisket would probably be best. But, if you get a flat with a healthy dose of marbling, it will be very, very nice.
AB: I'll take it! [he appears to be taking the marbled flat cut]
B: Excellent!

The Kitchen

GUEST: The Lady of the Refrigerator

    Like most large hunks o' beef, you can safely stash your brisket in the chill chest for up to four to five days. Now I should point out that back when corning beef first became popular, there were no refrigerators.

AB: Why, The Lady of the Refrigerator approaches and she looks kind of miffed.
LOTR: Did I hear you say, no refrigerators? Why, that's absurd, Alton. How could anyone exist?
AB: Well, they did.
LOTR: Prove it.
AB: Well, I'd love to, but it's not like I could just snap my fingers and transport us to medieval England ...
LOTR: [snaps her fingers]

Medieval England: Thatched House

GUEST: Medieval English Peasant #1 & #2

AB: M'lady? M'lady? M'lady, where are you?
LOTR: [emerges from a barrel used for curing meat]
AB: M'lady, what are you doing in a pickle barrel?
LOTR: I am thinking of horrible things to do to you.
AB: Heh heh heh. I'm sorry, but, you know when you think about it, it kind of makes sense.
LOTR: What part of my being embalmed in rotten bilge water makes any sense to you?
AB: Well, it's medieval food preservation. Granted, it's not up to today's standard. But pickling and corning certainly did give some protection against food spoilage.
LOTR: Now I'm all for being well-preserved, but what does corn have to do with me in a barrel?
AB: Ah, well you have to remember, back then corn didn't mean maize, the grain. "Corn" referred to any eentsy beentsy little granules such as salt. So a corned meat was simply meat that had been packed in salt long enough for the salt to replace some of the moisture inside the meat. You know, microorganisms and parasites do not find salt to be very pleasant.
LOTR: I find this extremely unpleasant too!
AB: Oh, I understand that. Well, look, I'm ready. Just snap those fingers, and let's get going.
LOTR: I can't move my arms.
AB: You can't move ... oh, okay. Well, uh, I'll give it a try. [snaps his fingers, and disappears]
LOTR: Hey, you forgot me!
P #1 and #2: [the peasants appear and both grin devilishly at the LOTR]
LOTR: Uh, hello. [to herself] I am going to kill him.

The Mason-Dixon Line

GUESTS: Confederate Soldiers

    Our ancestors may have brined completely for preservation's sake, but we modern enthusiasts, well, for us, it's really all about the pleasure, and believe me, there is nothing like the firm, salty smack of brined brisket. Oh, look, here comes some now! Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah.


TD: [drives up]
AB: Thanks for coming and meeting me halfway.
TD: Eh, no problem. [hands AB a package] There you go. Five pounds of authentic, New York deli-style corned beef. I thought you were going to make your own?
AB: Well, I am. I am. It's just that it's nice to have kind of a benchmark. You know, a target to shoot for.
TD: So, you got some quid pro quo for yours truly?
AB: Oh yeah, I got 'ya all set up. [hands the cab driver a package] Pork back ribs, smoked old school, in a cardboard box.
TD: You guys got some funny ways of cooking down here.
AB: Yeah, funny, but good. Listen, have a safe trip back, alright?
TD: Take it easy. [drives off toward the south]
AB: [yelling after him] You know what, I wouldn't go too far down that way if I were you.
TD: [is heard doing a quick turn-around in the drives back the other way]
[chases him down the road]

Corned beef that has been smoked and
seasoned with pepper is called pastrami.

The Kitchen

    [tasting the corned beef, muttering to himself and taking notes] Um, black pepper. Bay, definitely. Um, juniper, and, um, what is that. Clove, clove, yeah.
    There's a, there's a lot going on in here. And when you look closely, you notice that the meat is very dark pink. That is traditional for corned beef. And it might seem a little bit unnatural given what this meat has gone through—meaning hours and hours of cooking—but don't worry. It's potassium nitrate. Saltpeter.

Atkins Apothecary
Marietta, GA – 12:15 pm

GUEST: Pharmacist

    Traditionally, saltpeter was used in the meat curing process in order to prevent the growth of the bacteria that cause botulism. Pretty important back in the day before refrigeration. Not so much now. Um, we're going to have to ask the pharmacist.

AB: Excuse me, Sir.
PHARMACIST: What can I do for you, young fellow?
AB: Well, I'd like to get some saltpeter, please.
P: Haven't you heard? Saltpeter's bad for you. It's got nitrates in it.
AB: [to us] Well, that's, that's true.

    Some studies have suggested that nitrates can cause cancer in humans which is why it's not used in the manufacture of bacon anymore. And although I would admit that consuming large amounts of nitrate or even salt-cured food is probably not good for you, a corned beef sandwich now and then is not going to hurt anybody.

P: Sure, so says you. You look familiar.
AB: I do?
P: Yeah, you're the Brown's boy. You used to come in here, and, and buy saltpeter for smoke bombs.
AB: Nonsense, my Dad sent me for that because it's an excellent stump remover.
P: Yeah, and it's also the main oxygen supplying component of gunpowder. Huh, and I never forget a face.
AB: I just want to cure some meat.
P: Maybe you're going to make a trip on a whaler, or a merchant marine ship. You know ...
AB: What?
P: Well, you know.
AB: Ugh, there's absolutely no scientific proof that saltpeter inhibits the male libido.

    They used to give it to sailors a long time ago to keep them, you know, calm.

AB: I just want to cure some corned beef, okay?
P: Corned beef, eh?
AB: Yeah, yeah.
P: I haven't had a decent corned beef sandwich since I moved from Brooklyn ages ago.

    Ice ages.

P: Well, I ... guess ... it's ... okay. [hands AB a bottle of saltpeter] You owe me a corned beef sandwich.
AB: Okay, no problem.

    Oh boy. Of course if your pharmacy doesn't carry saltpeter or you just don't want to deal with that old coot, you can buy saltpeter as well as other curing products from a wide array of Internet sources. And of course, if you're really worried about nitrates, you don't have to use it in your corned beef at all. But, it won't be that beautiful rosy pink. [looking back at the Pharmacist] Old coot.

Besides cured meat and gunpowder, saltpetre is used in
ice cream, toothpaste, and stump removers.

The Kitchen

    Now it may be called "corned beef", but for the last couple hundred years, at least, corned beef has been pickled in a brine. Now of course, a brine is really nothing more than some water, some salt, maybe a little bit of sugar. But in our case, it'll be just a wee bit more elaborate.

    I have here two quarts of water which I have placed over high heat. To that we will add one cup of kosher salt. Now if you use a different salt, say, just table salt or pickling salt, you're going to want to weigh it, because it takes up less space volumetrically. You're looking for just under 10 ounces. We're also going to add half a cup of brown sugar. Light or dark, does not really matter. And last, but not least, two tablespoons of saltpeter. Now as I said before, this is an optional ingredient. But I like that pink color, so I am going to go for it. 2 Quarts Water
1 Cup Kosher Salt
½ Cup Brown Sugar
2 Tbs. Saltpetre
    Since our brine is going to deeply penetrate our meat, I see no reason not to, you know, send a few extra spices along for the ride. Let's say, well, a cinnamon stick. We'll break that into several pieces. A teaspoon of mustard seeds, a teaspoon of peppercorns. Maybe, I don't know, eight whole cloves, maybe eight allspice berries, 12 juniper berries, uh, a couple of bay leaves, and half a teaspoon of ground ginger. Whew, that ought to do it. 1 Cinnamon Stick
1 tsp. Mustard Seed
1 tsp. Whole Black
8 Whole Cloves
8 Whole Allspice Berries
12 Juniper Berries
2 Bay Leaves
½ tsp. Ground Ginger

    Kill the heat when the salt and sugar have thoroughly dissolved, add your spices, and let the liquid cool.
    [later] Can you smell it? [smells] Wow, what an aroma, huh? Oh, I'm sorry, you can't smell it. Oh well.

    It's time to chill this down, and we also need to add more water. So I have here two pounds of ice. That is one quart of water, frozen, of course. That will go in. And if you want to speed things up even more, just park the whole thing in a sink full of cold water. 2 Pounds Ice

    The pickling process is going to take 10 days here in your refrigerator, so we're going to have to make some space. As far as containment, once the brine has cooled down, I put it and the meat in a zip-top bag, two gallon range. Of course, these can spring a leak, so you're going to want to put that in some kind of pan or other appropriate containment. And if a lid is present, that would also be a good idea. Now every couple of days, I'm going to flip the bag over, just to make sure that the brine concentration remains consistent.

In Britain, "corned beef" refers to brined, cooked beef that's
been chopped up, pressed, and sold in oblong tins.

The Kitchen

    When the 10 days are up, remove the brisket from the brine, throw the brine away, and give the meat a good rinse under cold water. Have standing by in a large pot, one small onion, quartered, a large carrot, and one stalk of celery, both coarsely chopped. 1 Small Onion
1 Large Carrot
1 Stalk Celery

    Now the meat can go right on top. And remember, this is corned not cooked, so we've got to add to that. We're going to just add enough water to cover by one inch.
    Now get this onto high heat and allow it to come to a boil. When it hits a boil, drop the heat to low, put on the lid, and simmer for two and a half to three hours. Why so long? Well, you've got to remember, we're a ... we're ... [displays a small model of a cow, it is making "moo" noises] ... we're talking about the front axle of the animal, remember? And that's got a lot of ... [the mooing continues] oh hush! [he turns it off] ... a lot of connective tissue in it. To break that down and soften it, it's going to require moisture, low heat, and time.
    When the meat is fork-tender, let it cool thoroughly, and then slice very thin. And make sure you cut across the grain. Now I could say that this is nothing more than the ultimate sandwich meat [he is building a corned beef sandwich that is at least six inches high], but corned beef is more. It can be the centerpiece of many many a great meal. What kind of meal? Well, perhaps we should speak to s ome experts.

A classic Reuben sandwich is made with slices of corned beef,
Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on rye bread.

Johnnie MacCracken's Celtic Pub
Marietta, GA – 2:30pm

GUESTS: Catholic Priest
              Pub Patrons
              Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist

    Ahh, corned beef and cabbage. You know, I can't even look at this dish without thinking about Saint Patrick's Day. Indeed, this is such a popular dish on Saint Paddy's that certain bishops have given the dish an exemption just in case the holiday falls in a Friday during Lent. Now what I want to know is, how did this become so popular with Ireland?

AB: [turns to the priest] Tell me, Father.
PRIEST: Beats me. I never touch the stuff. In fact, I don't know anyone in Ireland that does. You might want to ask my friend down there. He knows a thing or two about brisket.
AB: Okay,. So, what do you say, Rabbi?
R: Alright, alright, you got me. So I'm occasionally fond of brisket. But listen, this whole corned beef thing? No idea. For the whole truth, you're gonna have to ask her [points].
AB: Well she's going to have to be a nutritional anthropologist to be a  ...  [gasps as he turns]
DD: [is a waitress at the pub] Actually, Alton, eating corned beef and cabbage on Saint Paddy's Day is really more American than Irish because the Irish probably never even saw corned beef before they got here. They were looking for a suitable substitute for their traditional bacon joint.
AB: Well, what about the rabbi here?
DD: Well, they couldn't find it here, so they were looking for a substitute. And they had these new Jewish neighbors who were enjoying this corned beef, and it was accessible, and affordable, and to this day, the best corned beef comes from New York City.
EVERYONE: NEW YORK CITY? [an homage to the Pace salsa commercial]
DD: Sit down, Hal! Meantime back in Ireland, corned beef never could be popular, because both beef and salt were very expensive for centuries and only available to the very wealthy.
AB: Okay. Well, Deb, as usual, your insights are, um ...
DD: Hey, who wants to hear a joke? A priest, a rabbi, and a nutritional anthropologist walk into a bar ...
[AB, the priest, and the rabbi get up]
DD: Hey, where are you going?

The Kitchen

    Cooking a traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner is a lot like just cooking corned beef. But we want to up the spices a little bit to help balance out the relatively bland vegetation to come.

    So, we'll start with two to two and a half pounds of our corned, but not cooked brisket. To that we will add a tablespoon of coarsely ground black pepper, a teaspoon of allspice, two bay leaves, two teaspoons of kosher salt, and enough water to cover by about an inch. We're going to crank the heat to high. And when it comes to a boil, we'll drop the heat, cover, and simmer for two to two and a half hours. And that should give us plenty of time to deal with the veggies. 2-2½ Pounds Corned Beef
1 Tbs. Coarsely Ground Black
1 tsp. Ground Allspice
2 Bay Leaves
2 tsp. Kosher Salt
Approximately 3 Quarts
    [later] Two and a half hours have passed. It is time for the first dose of vegetation. We'll start with the slowest cookers first. One pound of peeled Russet potatoes. Next up, carrots, half a pound, diced small. One half pound of diced onions, and two to three stalks of diced celery. And we're going to let this cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes, just to give these guys a head start in the cooking process before the cabbage comes in. 1 Pound Peeled & Chopped
½ Pound Carrots, Diced
½ Pound Onions, Diced Small
2-3 Stalks Celery, Diced
    And now, finally, the cabbage. I have here, one small cabbage, roughly, roughly chopped. It weighed about two pounds before I took the core out. There. Now we're going to let this cook for another 15 minutes, uncovered, until the cabbage and the potatoes are just fork-tender. 1 Small Head Cabbage,
    Roughly Chopped

    Grind on a little, or a lot, more black pepper. And, oh, you might want to fish out the bay leaves at this point. They're not really good eats anymore. There, time to dig in. By the way, unless you've got a family of, like, 37, there are going to be leftovers from this. And leftover corned beef and cabbage means hash—breakfast of champions.

"Kosher" is derived from the Hebrew root, Kaf-Shin-Resh,
meaning fit, proper or correct.

The Kitchen

    [enters with a stuffed bunny] The name "hash" comes from the word hacher meaning to slice or chop up. [drops the bunny] But the dish, at least in this country, is better known as the "King of Leftovers." The argument could be made that the best reason for cooking corned beef and a corned beef dinner is so that you could make hash the next day.

    Now we are going to require three tablespoons of unsalted butter. Uh, let's see. One cup of finely chopped red bell pepper. Um, let's see. A couple cloves of garlic, minced, which I've got left over here, which is nice, and five cups of leftover corned beef and cabbage. We're going to have to drain that. 3 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
1 Cup Finely Chopped Red
    Bell Pepper
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
5 Cups Leftover Corned
    Beef & Cabbage, Well-
    We're also going to need some herbage, say a half a teaspoon each of chopped fresh thyme, and chopped fresh oregano. That ought to do it. [looks down] What are you doing down there, bunny? ½ tsp. Each, Chopped
    Fresh Thyme & Chopped
    Fresh Oregano

    The butter goes into a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. And yes in this case, the cast iron really, really, really is important. Now, as soon as this melts, we will add the red bell pepper—one cup, chopped—and cook just until it starts to brown, say, five or six minutes.

    There, that is some nice color. So next in, the garlic. Get all that in there. Stir that in. All of the corned beef leftovers, the herbs, mix those together, and go ahead and hit it with a few good grinds of black pepper. You'll probably want more of that later. When you've got it mixed in, just evenly distribute it across the bottom of the pan. ¼ tsp. Freshly Ground Black

    And now, we are going to require a weight. That is right; we need to mash this down. You could use anything from a dinner plate, to a lid, or in my case I'm just going to use another pan because I have it nearby, and the size is right. I'm going to steal a little butter off of this guy [the cast iron skillet], and lube this [underside of the pan used as the weight] up just so that the potatoes won't stick. Put that back in place, and this will just go straight down. I'm going to give it a little push. There we go. And let it cook for about 10 minutes or until the hash is brown on the bottom.
    Now, a few minutes it's had to brown. Take off the pan, and kind of stir it up. We want to get all the browned stuff on top, and all of the unbrowned stuff on the bottom. Our goal is to get as much brown as possible. Now if we were to cut this up into really little pieces and do this, we could probably flip it like a pancake. But I kind of like it big and chunky. There. Now the pan goes back on, and we'll cook for another five to six minutes.
    Well, the only problem with this dish, is that it only makes one serving. You know, this is a breakfast so good that it's almost worth making the corned beef and cabbage just for the leftovers.

New York City

AB: [gets into a cab] Hello, my good man.
TD: Well, if it ain't Mister Corned Beef. What's cookin?
AB: [hands the cab driver a package] For you.
TD: Whaddya got there?
AB: Well, you know, one good sandwich deserves another.
TD: Is that ... ?
AB: Yeah, corned beef on rye. I made that myself.
TD: You know, that don't look half bad.
AB: Half bad? That's all good, my man. A little time, a little brine, and a little old fashioned food preservation is all it takes. Not that we'll need it, considering how fast it will go.
TD: [takes a bite] Now that's ...  that's ...
AB: I think the words you are looking for are "good eats."
TD: Yeah.
AB: Hit it, buddy.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010