How to make Salt Beef at home

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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’.

Serves 4-6

For the brine

200g soft light-brown sugar
300g coarse sea salt
2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp juniper berries
4 cloves
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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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31 Comments

Filed under Beef, Recipe Shed

31 Responses to How to make Salt Beef at home

  1. Jayne Robinson

    Hi, just came across your post as I have made salt beef a couple of times and was wondering if you could use a slow cooker. Noticed your salt beef has a lovely red colour, how did you get it to keep its colour without using potassium nitrate (salt petre)? My salt beef tastes nice but has an unappealing, grey colour. Thanks!

    • keithkendrick

      Hi Jayne, I have just looked at my recipe again and realised I neglected to say I cooked this in a slow cook,er on LOW, for up to hours. I didn’t use salt petre. I’d never cooked this before but it came out with that wonderfulo pinkiness in the middle. Hope that helps.

      • Jayne

        Thanks for your reply! I’ve only made it once, the flavour and texture were fine but the brine seemed to drain all of the meat’s colour out of the brine. All the advice I’ve been given suggests you need to use salt Peter but I don’t like the idea of using it. I’ll definitely try it in the slow cooker next time, as last time I boiled it, and see if it makes a difference!

  2. Naseema

    Apologies, missed it on the first read. water is added…I must have ADD!

  3. Tracy Vallance

    Hi keith
    making this now well starting process, can you let me know what liquid you use to cook in slow cooker and quantity? Im guessing water but thought i would check
    cheers
    tracy x

    • keithkendrick

      Hi Tracy, Yep, you’re right – water. Just ordinary water from your tap. And the quantity in the slow cooker: enough water to cover all of the meat.
      Best wishes and good luck.

  4. tom

    saltpeter is very difficult to obtain in the UK due to it’s use in the making of explosives.

    This is the first recipe that I have seen without it!!

  5. Graham Williams

    Hi Keith. I have just put my brisket in the fridge and have a couple of questions for you. When doing the final cook, why does it have to be rolled and tied? Couldn’t it be cooked as a flat slab of meat? I have not used salt petre. And to get the nice pink colour what do you think about cooking it in red wine or adding a beetroot for colour?
    Graham.

    • keithkendrick

      Hi Graham, nice to hear from you. Rolling and tying isn’t necessary – it just looks more presentable – so cook it as a slab, no problem. As for the colour, I didn’t use any food colouring or salt petre or anything at all to achieve the colour in my photos – it just came out that way. My advice would be to trust the process. Best of luck with it.

  6. Henz

    Mine turned out exactly like yours, Keith. I believe it is the celery as celery also contains smaller quantities nitrates and that enabled the meat to retail the colour.

    I have loved salt beef for a very long time and would either go to Brick Lane to buy large amounts or specifically put in an order at Angel Inn where they serve salt beef bagels.

    It is really nice to be able to make this myself and see how it is done. Thanks very much for putting this here.

    • keithkendrick

      Great to hear. I’m so glad it worked out because I know how much effort it takes to make this. Interesting point about the celery. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Henz

    Apologies for the spelling errors, as inputted on my phone screen.
    Meant to say, “smaller quantities of nitrates” “meat to retain”.

    Thanks again.

  8. mark phillips

    salt petre is difficult to get hold of but I use this for brining http://www.weschenfelder.co.uk/bacon-curing-salt-beef/salt-beef-cure.html

  9. Caroline jones

    Hello, my beef is now soaking in the brine. Can the brine be re-used?

    Thank you, Caroline

    • keithkendrick

      Good question. I threw mine away because I figured it would contain too much bacteria from the soaked meat, but if you boiled it to kill the nasties, then I imagine it’s re-usable. In other words, I don’t actually know. Ive just Googled your quesiton and there are some interesting responses on curing meat forums. Good luck.

  10. elisabeth jones

    hi
    i am wondering if the beef can
    be cooked in a pressure
    cooker instead of the slow
    way – any idea?
    thanks, lis

  11. Vickie

    How long did you cook in the slow cooker for I know you said up to 6hrs but it seems a long time but I know you cook brisket long and slow …. Just really want to get this right and tips apperciated

  12. Boaz

    Second time I’ve used your recipe with over a year in between,in which time I managed to get hold of a piece of horseradish root.This has turned into a huge plant,but not sure how long it needs to grow before it has a big useable length of root.Wondered if anyone knows?

  13. Mike Rowlands

    Hi I have just started to soak my Brisket when finished can the meat be frozen? Many Thanks Mike R

  14. Henz

    Mike, you can freeze the salt beef once fully cooked as I do this with mine, otherwise it would certainly go off as I make a whole 2kgs worth of it. Have to say though, as soon as friends and family know I have made it, they are round like a shot.

    • Michael John Rowlands

      Many thanks Henz I will do it then. I have the same problem as you as soon as any friends or family get a sniff I am doing it they flock round lol. But I like you make a large piece of Brisket varying between 3-4 kilo. I am now going to make a few up and freeze for Xmas. Yours a most grateful
      Mike R

  15. Carol

    Hi
    How do I sterilize the container for brining?

    Regards Carol.

  16. Rose

    Any idea why my need is a grey colour? Have followed recipe exactly and it looked disgusting when I took it out to cook this morning🙈

  17. Lorna

    Hi,
    I know this post was several years ago but maybe you’ll still receive my question. After my seven day brining, what do you think of smoking my saltbeef? I regularly do smoked brisket but think this will add a new dimension.

    Thanks,
    Lorna

    • keithkendrick

      I think smoking the salt beef is an excellent idea. I haven’t done it myself, but it sounds like a stroke of genius.