In the labyrinthian prep areas behind the Corti Bros. Market meat counter, Carroll trimmed and brine-injected beautiful briskets and other cuts of beef (pictured), then sank them under more house-made brine in stainless-steel barrels. There they will soak until Feb. 29, when they will be displayed in the meat department cold cases and sold to home cooks eager to bring a taste of Ireland into their kitchens. Some of the brined cuts will likely still be available post-March 17.
"St. Patrick's Day is huge for corned beef sales," Carroll said, stacking chunks of beef onto a huge cutting table. "We're injecting and barrel-brining more than 2,000 pounds of meat - choice, prime and Wagyu (Kobe-style) briskets, (leaner) eye of rounds, bottom rounds and prime Diamond Jims (from the shoulder), and a limited amount of pork shoulder and beef tongue."
The beef is from premium wholesaler J.B.S Meats of Greenley, Colo., said Carroll, who has been with Corti Bros. for 34 years. What's the difference between the beef cuts?
"The texture of the meat," he said. "The briskets are chewier and more fatty, while the others are leaner and more tender. But my choice is always the brisket because it has the most flavor."
"The brine is going directly inside the meat, so the advantage is enhanced flavor," he said. "This way, the (cuts) can be ready in seven days. If you just soak them in brine, they won't be ready for 14 to 21 days. We're doing both so the meat will be as tender and flavorful as possible, and ready to sell before St. Patrick's Day weekend. A lot of (home cooks) want to do a 'practice run' first."
The water-based brine is made from a proprietary recipe, Carroll said. Some of the ingredients are cloves, cinnamon, bay leaf and pickling spices, but "nobody else has this recipe."
As shoppers grow more savvy, they're more interested in knowing "where the meat they buy comes from and who's preparing it," Carroll said. "Every year we're selling more and more corned beef as people discover we're making it here, compared to them buying a package that came from back East somewhere. Many (shoppers) think they can get corned beef only around St. Patrick's Day, so they tend to forget how good it is. We have it (in Cryovac) year-round."
For the beef Carroll is brining now, prices will range from $4.99 a pound to $8.99 a pound, depending on the cut. Pre-order at (916) 736-3805.
Some home cooks say their corned beef turns out too salty, an inherent problem with brined meats. Carroll offered this tip: "Bring the meat to a boil in water with pickling spices. Remove the meat and dump the water and the spices. Add fresh water and more spices and bring it to a boil again, then simmer. That will remove a lot of the salt."
If you can't wait to cook your own corned beef, chef Andrew Cordaro - a 26-year Corti Bros. veteran - cooks corned beef brisket in the kitchen and stocks it in the delicatessen ($9.99 a pound). Lately, he has experimented with braising the briskets instead of boiling them. Here's how he does it:
"Hand-rub the brisket with a mixture of Old Bay seasoning, pickling spices, Coleman's dry mustard, black pepper and a pinch of sea salt. Place the brisket into a shallow roasting pan with a quart of water. Add diced celery, onion and carrot (a mirepoix) on top of and around the meat. Cover and cook at 300 degrees for about 3-1/2 hours, until fork-tender."
Corti Bros. Market is at 5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 736-3800, www.cortibrosbiz.com.