The three curing recipes had identical seasonings except for the liquids; one was a dry rub, one was a brine made with whey, and one was a brine made with apple cider vinegar. The cooking process was also similar for all three recipes: empty the meat plus all the cure ingredients into an oven-safe bowl, rinse the cure bag out with water, and add additional water as necessary to cover the meat. Then bake at 350 °F until well-done (meat internal temperatures actually reached 185-190 °F); total time in the oven was about an hour.
The taste tests had two parts: ex-reubo tasting and in-reubo tasting, which are Latin-sounding terms we invented to mean 'out-of-the-reuben (sandwich)' and 'in-the-reuben,' analogous to in-situ (or in-vivo) and ex-situ. Ex-reubo was just a bite of the cooked beast; in-reubo was obviously in the sandwich, along with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and thousand island dressing on rye bread.
Somewhat to our surprise, there was a clear winner in this epic battle. Which recipe emerged victorious? Read on to find out!
|Fresh out of the cure stage, they look pretty similar. The dry rub is maybe a little darker, and the whey-brined meat is more squishy.|
|Here they are, warming up for the fight. A pan of roasted root veggies is ready to make sure any boil overs aren't wasted.|
|Post-cooking, they also look pretty similar. There is less foam with the dry rub, and the whey brine had the most. Not sure if that's significant in any way.|
|The internal texture and color looks pretty similar, too, and all were readily edible in the ex-reubo test. No forced smiles or slipping pieces under the table to the dog were required. But the whey brine is the clear winner! It's by far the most tender. The flavors were pretty similar for all three, too, except the dry rub was more salty. To be fair, though, the original instructions for cooking the dry rub called for washing off the cure ingredients, cooking it, and letting it sit in a second, less-salty liquid for several hours before doing the final cooking. For us, the extra required effort does not help the dry rub's case. The apple cider vinegar-brined meat was also quite a bit drier than the whey-brined version.|
|Let's move on to the in-reubo test. Pro tip: melting the Swiss cheese with the broiler helps keeps the slices of corned beast in place.|
|Of course, it wouldn't be a true St. Patty's Day reuben meal without the root veggies and some cabbage to go with it. It's a lot harder to tell a difference between the different cures in-reubo, but the whey-brined version is still noticeably more tender. Score settled! Follow-up question: why is the whey best? Short answer: we don't know for sure. The whey has different acids (lactic and citric) than the vinegar (acetic), but also has other things the vinegar brine doesn't have, like lactose and proteins. Apparently, the combination of ingredients in the 30-min mozzarella whey is a good one for brining meat.|
So, there you have it. Whey brining is the best way to cure corned beast, in our opinion. What's your favorite way (or whey) to do it?