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Corned beef brisket is a portion of meat from the lower front of a cow that has been cured in a salt brine. This cured brisket also is known as salted beef in some regions. It is a popular dish in both Irish and Jewish cuisine in the United States and often appears on special Saint Patrick's Day menus. This dish can be prepared at home or purchased already cured. Health concerns over nitrates have led many cooks to prepare corned beef brisket in their own kitchens using alternative curing agents.
The brisket itself comes from the chest area of a cow and, if properly slaughtered, is considered kosher under Jewish dietary laws. The muscle in this area is relatively tough and generally requires longer cooking times to reach the desired tenderness. While regular brisket can be prepared using a variety of methods, corned beef brisket is typically covered in water in a large pot and simmered for two or three hours until it is tender. Some recipes provide a method for using a slow cooker to prepare the beef, which generally uses a longer cooking time. Once tender, the brisket is thinly sliced for serving.
Before cooking, corned beef brisket must be cured for up to 10 days in a solution of salt, sugar and potassium nitrate or sodium nitrate. The nitrates give the brisket its distinctive pink coloring. Several herbs and spices — such as mustard seed, allspice and peppercorns — also are added to the curing solution for extra flavor. Once the curing process is finished, the brining solution is discarded and the meat should be rinsed well before cooking.
Corned beef brisket that has already been cured can be purchased from many grocery stores' meat departments. Sliced brisket is often available at the deli counter and is a popular item in kosher delis for use on sandwiches or bagels. Leftover brisket is often mixed with other ingredients to make corned beef hash. Cabbage is a traditional accompaniment in both main-dish and hash recipes.
Some people have voiced concerns about the preservatives used in preparing corned beef brisket, because potassium nitrate and sodium nitrate have been linked to a possible increase in the risk of developing certain kinds of cancer. The dish can be prepared without these preservatives, but the final product will not have the distinctive pink coloring and may taste slightly different. The beef also will not remain fresh for as long without the preservative effects of the nitrates.