Prepackaged corned beef, which is available in the meat section of most supermarkets year round and is especially prominent around St. Patrick's Day, usually comes with a small packet of mixed whole spices. You're instructed to sprinkle the spices over the meat before braising, boiling or roasting it low and slow. The result is a tender, flavorful piece of beef with a distinctive flavor profile hinting at the components of that spice blend.
Corned Beef Seasoning Packets
A typical corned beef seasoning packet varies by brand, but it is essentially a pickling spice blend made up mostly of peppercorns, bay leaves, mustard seeds, dill seeds and at least a few other whole spices, all with warm and robust flavors.
When you know what goes into the blend, it's easy to prepare your own corned beef seasoning from scratch.
Corned Beef Spices, Explained
Corned beef gets its characteristic flavor and fork-tender texture from two stages of preparation — curing and cooking. Both the curing and cooking stages involve corned beef spices (a.k.a. pickling spice).
During curing, point-cut or flat-cut brisket of beef is soaked in a strong brine with added corned beef spices. Corned beef that you purchase has already been cured, but you can also cure a piece of brisket yourself at home. Know that doing so requires soaking the beef in brine in the refrigerator for around a week, so plan accordingly.
The second stage of preparing corned beef is cooking, which you can do at home on the stove top, in a slow cooker, in a pressure cooker or in the oven. Whichever method you prefer, the key to tender corned beef is cooking it slowly at a low temperature and with ample liquid in addition to the spices.
Corned Beef Seasoning From Scratch
If you are making your own corned beef from scratch, your package didn't include a corned beef seasoning packet or you simply prefer to create your own spice blend, it's very easy to do so. Simply mix together similar quantities of as many of the following whole spices as you desire:
- whole peppercorns (try a variety of colors)
- bay leaves, crumbled
- yellow and brown mustard seeds
- dill seeds
- coriander seeds
- juniper berries
- crushed red pepper
- cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
- dehydrated ginger
- dehydrated garlic
- fennel seeds
- star anise
- cardamom pods
What to Do With Corned Beef Spices
The instructions on packaged corned beef as well as recipes for corned beef from scratch generally tell you to sprinkle the whole spices over the fatty side of the meat before proceeding with your chosen cooking method. Given that proper corned beef preparation calls for plenty of liquid, the spices usually come away from the beef and end up in the liquid, which is fine. The beef will still get infused with their flavors and aromas.
The quantity of spices in a corned beef seasoning packet is premeasured in an amount suitable for the cut. If you're using a pickling spice blend from a jar or preparing corned beef seasoning from scratch, add approximately 1 tablespoon of spices per pound of beef.
If you're cooking vegetables such as potatoes and cabbage in the same pot as the corned beef, you will likely end up with whole spices mixed into the vegetables. To avoid this, add the spices to the pot inside a tea strainer or a cheesecloth pouch. Add more flavor to your corned beef by including aromatics like onion, celery and carrot plus fresh garlic along with the cooking liquid. You might also substitute cider or beer for some of the water called for by your corned beef recipe.
- Delish: What Is Corned Beef?
- Fox News: 5 Tips for Making Perfect Corned Beef
- My Spice Sage: Corned Beef Spices
- The Kitchn: Here's Why We Eat Corned Beef on St. Patrick's Day
- The Spice House: Corned Beef Blend of Whole Spices
- Reference: What Is in the Corned Beef Seasoning Packet?
- Williams Sonoma: Homemade Pickling Spice