Wednesday, 3 December 2014

How to make Salt Beef

I was down in London earlier in the year, eating, which is usually what happens on a jaunt to London. I write up a strategic plan of how to eat in as many places as physically possible before the train home departs, at least three places per day, sometime more... I find inspiration, fullness to the extreme and a very empty purse ensues...

But earlier in the year for some reason we found ourselves hungry, on Brick Lane, mid afternoon, I’m not quite sure how the hunger had managed to make an appearance but... there before us was the famous brick lane bagel shop, so we queued and ordered salt beef bagels, and my god they were good... a different ball game, what even are those things in the shops they call bagels, the salt beef, the bagel, so good...

I returned home and started planning a salt beef bagel supperclub, it happened earlier in the year at The Cumberland Arms... and went down a treat, there was even beer matching, we called it 'Some like it Hops'... If you have never made your own bagels and like baking you must try it, it’s hugely satisfying and just a whole different species from a shop bought one, fresh, bouncy, a chewy delicious crust and soft inside, so good, I blogged about them earlier in the year here...

But now to the salt beef; I’ve been making my own since then, honing the recipe as I’ve experimented, I think I’ve got it down to a tee now, at least how I like it anyway. I began with a Tim Hayward recipe from the Guardian, a step by step photo thing which made it look easy, and to be honest, it is, it just takes a while... In simple terms you make a brine, brine some brisket for a while, then simmer it with stock vegetables and you have your salt beef, all ready to fall apart into your homemade bagel...

I favour a stronger brine, saltier in short, I think the meat ends up tastier, so I now use a St John recipe for a good strong brine. These amounts make 4 litres of brine, which is enough to brine up to 5kgs of brisket, just make less if you have a smaller piece. You can use this brine for loads of other recipes too, pork belly, ox tongue, other brisket recipes... In a large pan combine 400g caster sugar, 600g sea salt, 12 juniper berries, 12 cloves, 12 black peppercorns, 3 bay leaves and 4 litres of water. I also add 30g of Prague Powder #1 which contains saltpetre, a curing agent, which encourages the meat to turn that lovely pink colour and cure evenly. Bring everything to the boil to dissolve the salt and sugar then leave to cool to room temperature.

Then you can add your brisket. I add 5kg of brisket to this brine, in a big Tupperware bucket that I keep at the bottom of the fridge. I cut it into 4 or 5 pieces, not tied up, just loose, then weight it down with a few plates to keep the meat fully submerged. I have left it to brine for anything from 5 days to 15 days, a week is ideal. Turn the meat around every couple of days, so it cures evenly. If you are only doing a small quantity you can put it in a freezer bag and fill that with the brine and just turn it over each day.

When you are ready to cook the beef remove it from the brine, add it to a large pan with a whole onion cut in half, a carrot cut in half, 2 bay leaves, some parsley, a stick of celery, some peppercorns, a few juniper berries and lots of cold water so it is fully covered. Bring it to the boil and then let it simmer for 4 hours, a very gentle simmer, the water just wants to be moving a tiny bit, so you are cooking it very gently. After 4 hours the meat will fall apart into lovely pink shreds. You can serve it hot with horseradish cream and potatoes, or pull it apart and put it in a bagel with lots of Sweet Cucumber Pickle and English mustard. It’s a delight, sorry I haven’t told you about it sooner...


  1. I would travel to London solely for a Salt Beef Bagel! I'm definitely going to try your recipe over the festive period, mouth is watering! ��

  2. Hi, I am makings this recipe and am a little concerned about the amount of Prague powder. The recipe states 30g however everything I read about Prague powder #1 says you must not use more than 2.5g per kg of meat. Can you advise?

    1. hi, it's a St. john recipe for the brine that i have always used and it's always worked perfectly for me for the 4litres of brine.

  3. Claire, this is late, sorry. I think the 2.5 g per kilo is for when you are doing a dry cure.

    I agree that 30g does sound like a lot though, even for a brine.

  4. Would there be any use for the leftover liquid following the cooking of the meat?


Happy cooking! Let me know if you make any of my recipes, send a picture, and let me know any of your own recipes and tips! Anna x