St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t seem complete without corned beef and cabbage. It’s a meal my whole family loves. The only problem is finding nitrate free corned beef. It’s not in the stores here so if I really wanted it, I would need to either order it online or make it myself.
Why do we avoid nitrates/nitrites? Nitrates have been used for a very long time. It was known as salt peter. And actually nitrates are naturally occurring in many foods we eat. Have you ever noticed on a package of “nitrate/nitrite free” bacon that celery juice is listed as an ingredient? Well, guess what celery juice is high in? Yup, sodium nitrate. So, I’m a little torn on whether sodium nitrate is actually bad for us, naturally occurring or not.
Do nitrates cause cancer? Apparently no. The question was raised but fairly quickly debunked.
“Several decades ago, some researchers raised the possibility that nitrites could be linked to cancer in laboratory rats. This suggestion received a lot of media attention. What received less media attention, however, was when it turned out that they were wrong. Indeed, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Cancer Society and the National Research Council all agree that there’s no cancer risk from consuming sodium nitrite.” http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/seasoningflavoring/a/nitrates.htm
Sodium Nitrate has been linked to hyperactivity in children. I have 4 very active boys and if there is even the slightly possibility that something will cause hyperactivity, my kids are usually sensitive to it. I don’t need any extra hyperactivity. So, yes, they’ll get it in foods that are naturally high in it but if I can avoid adding more to their diet, I will. That’s where I stand.
Since we are not using sodium nitrate, we won’t keep this meat at room temp for long. We’ll leave it out for only 8 hours. We also won’t keep it in the fridge for longer than 10 days. If you need to keep it longer, plan on freezing it.
You can add about two cups of celery juice in place of some of the water to preserve the color. As I explained earlier, celery juice contains naturally occuring nitrates. Since my children do react to nitrates, I prefer not to use celery juice (though I’m not completely opposed to it). If you use celery juice, you can leave it at room temp longer. From 1-3 days, though you can transfer it to the fridge at any point for further curing if you don’t feel comfortable leaving it out that long. For a great recipe using celery juice and whey, see the Nourished Kitchen’s recipe for Corned Beef
You’ll notice another ingredient on your bacon “lactic acid”. That’s what whey is full of! And ours is full of beneficial bacteria as well (though since we’ll be cooking this meat, that doesn’t really matter). Lactic acid is the byproduct of the bacteria eating lactose.
- 3 lb beef brisket (or other tough cut of meat)
- 1.5 oz bottle of pickling spices (opti0nal at this point)
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1 cup of whey (optional)
- 1 tbsp rapadura (or sweetener of choice)
- filtered water to cover
- Rinse meat. You can either leave your brisket whole or cut into 3″ chunks. I cut mine into chunks so the brine gets more into the beef (I shred it up anyway when it’s cooked).
- Heat about 2 cups of water, salt and sugar just until salt and sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let return to room temperature.
- Place meat in a 1/2 gallon jar (either with an airtight lid or an airlock). Add pickling spices.
- Add whey to the salt brine and pour over the meat. Add more water as needed to bring the level to within a couple inches from the top. Twist and tap the jar to get all the air bubbles out. Use a utensil as needed to poke the meat and get all the bubbles out.
- Weight the meat down. *It’s important to keep the meat below the surface of the brine*. Use a lid with a sterilized rock or glass to weigh down the lid.
- Let set at room temperature for about 8 hrs. Move to the fridge to continue curing for about a week. The meat will be brown since we are not using sodium nitrate. If you are not using whey, be sure to move the meat to the fridge at 8 hrs. If at any point you are not comfortable leaving the meat at room temperature, feel free to move the jar to the fridge. It will continue to cure at the colder temperature.
Once the meat is cured, use as you would in any recipe asking for corned beef. It will need to be cooked. Check back next week for a recipe to use the corned beef (make sure you have some cabbage and potatoes on hand).
What’s your opinion on sodium nitrate? Yes or no?
Let me know in the comments!