Sunday, March 3, 2013

Corned Beast

It's hard to believe that St. Patty's Day is already less than three weeks away, but that means it's time to start thinking about Reuben Sandwiches--which means it's definitely time to start corning some meat!  Essentially all you need is a brine of liquid, salt, and spices.  Some folks like to add sodium or potassium nitrite (NaNO2 or KNO2, respectively) to give the cured product a pink/red color, but it's certainly not necessary.  We've made corned venison for the last several years without any adding any nitrites, and everyone still scarfs down their Reubens lickety split.

However, in case you're curious like we were, the mechanism by which the red color is produced is pretty cool.  Basically, when you add the sodium nitrite to your brine, it separates into Na+ and NO2- ions.  When the ions get into the meat, the NO2- is converted to nitric oxide, NO, which can bind strongly to the iron atom in the myoglobin protein.  The iron in myoglobin normally binds molecular oxygen (O2) and is blood red, but changes color depending on what molecule is stuck to it.  If NO is stuck to the iron atom, it turns bright red, and on heating produces the characteristic pinkish color of cured meats like smoked ham or...well, corned beef.  Lots more on the science from Iowa State University is here.

In the past we've used water with a little vinegar as the base of our brine, but a little reading this year led us to the discovery that whey from making cheese could be used just as well!  As it turned out, we just made a batch of mozzarella and were looking for something to do with the whey.  Serendipity!

So, here's how we got our meat corning this year...check in around March 17 or so and we'll report back on how it turned out!

The chosen section of beast.  We didn't have any tough ol' shoulder roasts left, so we had to use a nice cut of loin.  Make sure to use a non-metallic container with a tight-fitting lid.

Combine whey and salt, stir until dissolved.  We used about 2 cups whey since that's what we needed to cover the meat in the bowl.  Some recipes say you need to heat it to get all the salt dissolved, but we didn't.
Crush, slice, or chop the seasonings.  We didn't have any whole cloves, so we used ground up ones.  Either will work.

Combine everything in the bowl, snap the cover on top, and put 'er in the fridge for two or three weeks.  Don't forget to take it out and mix (or shake or invert) at least once a day to make sure it cures evenly.

The recipe:
1.75 lb venison meat (tough cuts like shoulder or neck roasts work well for this)
2 c. whey
1/3 c. sea salt
1/2 t. each crushed peppercorns, whole allspices, ground cloves, coriander, mustard, and caraway
2 bay leaves, crushed
5 cloves garlic, sliced

Trim the meat to your liking and set it in a non-metallic bowl or container with a tight-fitting lid.  Dissolve the salt in the whey, add seasonings.  Mix well, cover, and refrigerate for at least 10 days, up to three weeks for stronger flavor.  Rotate at least once a day.  It's that easy.  Check back around St. Patty's Day for cooking instructions (and our favorite Reuben recipe)!


  1. Wonderful. Let us know how the reubens turn out! We're all out of venison/beef, so we'll just drool over your pictures instead of eating our own... unless you think pig-beast would work??

    1. The trick with the Reubens is getting them photographed before they disappear, but we'll do our best. :-) We were considering doing corned pork, but we haven't tried it yet. I think it would probably taste somewhat like ham. Let us know if you give it a try!

  2. This is pretty cool! I have tasted your "corned beast" and it is really good! I will have to try doing this myself! Is there a way to set my alarm for 3 weeks before St. Pats day so I remember to start it?