We are one week away from everyone's favorite holiday, St. Patrick's Day!! Ok, that might be a stretch. After green beer the thing that screams, "Let's Celebrate!" is corned beef...am I right?? It's funny that corned beef and more specifically corned beef and cabbage is synonymous with St. Patrick's Day even though in Ireland it really isn't a staple dish. They actually serve bacon and cabbage, which is definitely not a bad alternative. Corned beef was substituted by Irish immigrants when they came to the United States. You can thank me for your food history lesson later. .
Last year was the first year where I decided to make corned beef from scratch. I thought we would have people over for St. Patrick's Day, eat some beef and drink some beer. I hadn't done a lot of research into how to actually make it, so a couple days prior to wanting to serve it, I went out and bought some brisket, thinking you just need to add some pickling spices to it as you cook it. I was a little shocked when I found out that the curing process actually takes 7-10 days depending on the size of your brisket. Oops...
Well that didn't stop me from making it. I just had to procure (no pun intended) some unique ingredients that I wasn't able to just walk into a regular grocery store and pick up. The two ingredients that I had to order online were juniper berries and saltpeter. Saltpeter is another name for potassium nitrate. Yeah, I added potassium nitrate knowingly to food that I was going to eat.
Before you go and call the nitrate police, I would suggest you read this article from Chris Kresser, The Nitrate and Nitrite Myth: Another Reason Not To Fear Bacon. The following stat is from his article which he gives reference to and I thought it was a pretty big eye opener.
It may shock you to learn that one serving of arugula, two servings of butter lettuce, and four servings of celery or beets all have more nitrite than 467 hot dogs. (2) And your own saliva has more nitrites than all of them!
Assuming you are eating fairly healthy, there is a chance you are consuming a decent amount of nitrate rich vegetables. Numerous brands, like Applegate, have cashed in on the fear of nitrates by providing meat products that are branded "No Added Nitrates." I wonder if we should start demanding nitrate free celery. Sounds kind of silly right? The funny thing about companies that claim to have "nitrate free" or "uncured" products is that a majority of them use celery powder to "naturally cure" their products. If you look at Applegate's bacon there are asterics after the saying "No Added Nitrites or Nitrates." Those asterics direct you to a statement that says "Except for those naturally occurring in sea salt and celery powder." It doesn't say how much of those ingredients are added but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that they are adding those things to essentially give you the same product as the rest of the bacon on the shelf. I will give Applegate credit for using pork that hasn't been treated with hormones or antibiotics.
There is one problem that has been linked to nitrates is if they turn into nitrosamines. I learned about this by reading an article at Authority Nutrition, which links to some research study abstracts. If you want to read it, click here. If nitrates are exposed to high heat (350 degrees and up) during the cook process than some of those nitrates will turn into nitrosamines. This goes for all nitrates but when was the last time you grilled some celery?? The way to safeguard your bacon, ham, and hot dogs is to cook them at lower temperatures. If you are grilling hot dogs in the summer time don't cook them until they are charred. With your bacon, cook it at a medium to low heat. With your corned beef, cook it slow in a slow cooker or dutch oven.
I hope this has made you think twice about the fear of nitrates in your food. If you want to make your own corned beef, I say go for it. You might be a little late for St Patrick's Day this year, but in my opinion any day of the year is a good day for corned beef. The recipe I used comes from Alton Brown and the Food Network website. The only thing that I changed was that I followed the curing instructions that were on the saltpeter container that I got rather than using the 2 tablespoons that he recommends.
The Cook & The Coach
Healthy is a LIFESTYLE.