The best salt beef sandwich I’ve ever tasted was from the Birley Salt Beef Bar in London’s Canary Wharf, where I worked a few years ago. It stuck in my memory and ever since I’ve longed to make my own salt beef.
Well, the longing has been sated. I got my hands on a magnificent piece of Welsh Wagyu brisket from Alternative Meats – the best £12 I’ve ever spent. This breed is especially good for making salt beef because of its high fat content, which gives you glorious melting meat.
Making salt beef needs lots of love and care – but most of all, patience. But the wait was well, well worth it. I’m sure even the experts at Birley would approve. You can use another breed: just ask your butcher for a lovely fatty bit of brisket. Tell him what it’s for. The more fat, the better the flavour.
This recipe is adapted from Diana Henry’s book on preserving, ‘Salt Sugar Smoke’.
For the brine
200g soft light-brown sugar
300g coarse sea salt
2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp juniper berries
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
For the beef
1 kg beef brisket
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
1 leek, cut into large chunks
1 bouquet garni (fresh rosemary, thyme, flat-leaf parsely, tied with string)
Half head of garlic
1. Put all the ingredients for the brine into a very large saucepan, pour in 2 litres of water and gradually bring to the boil, stirring to help the sugar and salt dissolve. Once it comes to the boil, let it bubble away for two minutes. Take off the heat and leave to cool completely.
2. Pierce the meat all over with a skewer. Put it in a large, sterilised non-metallic bowl or bucket (I used a large mixing bowl) and cover the meat with the brine; it must be totally immersed. Leave in a very cool place for seven days.
3. Take the beef out of the brine and rinse it. Roll and tie the meat and put it in a slow cooker with the vegetables, bouquet garni and garlic, adding enough cold water to cover. Cook in a slow cooker on LOW for up to 6 hours until the meat is very tender. (You could also do this in a large pan on the hob on the lowest possible heat for 2-2 ½ hours).
4. When cooked, slice thinly and serve on toasted ciabatta bread with American mustard, a slice of Jarlsberg cheese, gherkins and potato salad. It will keep for a week in the fridge. Just wrap it well so it stays moist. Great for sandwiches.