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Season 17, Episode 4 Recap: Home-Corned Beef and Cabbage—and Shots of Sherry (Vinegar)

There are two great ways to cure your brisket, but we found the most convenient.

Published Jan. 30, 2017.

If you’ve ever wanted to watch Bridget and Julia share a beer over a plate of corned beef and cabbage, this is your episode. The hosts start the episode with a feast fit for St. Patrick himself, and then Bridget heads to the tasting lab to join Jack for some shot glasses full of sherry vinegar. Bridget determines that some of the samples taste like nail polish remover, while others possess notes of sweet apricots. Finally, Elle makes Snickerdoodles, which are the first thing she ever learned to cook in a home economics course while growing up in Detroit.

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"New England Classics"

Host Julia Collin Davison goes into the test kitchen with host Bridget Lancaster to reveal the secrets to making Home-Corned Beef with Vegetables. Then, tasting expert Jack Bishop challenges Bridget to a tasting of sherry vinegar. Finally, test cook Elle Simone shows Julia how to make the ultimate Snickerdoodles.  
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Five Takeaways from the Episode

1. How Corned Beef Gets Its Name: Corned beef’s name comes from the large pieces of salt—or, kernel-shaped corns—that were used to cure the meat. Salt kills pathogens, speeds up the drying process by pulling the water out of the meat through osmosis, and adds flavor.

2. There are Two Methods for Corning Your Beef: And they are the dry method and the wet method. For the dry method, you salt and season your meat, wrap it in plastic wrap, put it in the fridge, and then flip it every day for up to a week. The results are delicious, but the process is time-consuming. The wet method is far easier. You simply add all the ingredients to water and soak the meat—like a brine—until cured, which takes six days. (We performed a side-by-side taste test to determine if one method yielded better results than the other, but determined in the end that both corned beefs were delicious. We like the wet method for its relative convenience.)

3. Pink Salt Imparts More Than Just Color to Corned Beef: Pink salt is a combination of sodium chloride—otherwise known as table salt—and sodium nitrite. Sodium nitrite is dyed pink to distinguish it from table salt, and only a small amount is needed for curing the beef and giving the meat its trademark pink hue. But color isn’t the only reason we call for it in our recipe. In a side-by-side taste test, tasters unanimously preferred the corned beef that had been brined with pink salt, claiming it just downright tasted better.

4. Sherry Vinegar Used to Be Made with Old Bacteria: It’s true—producers used to take bacteria from an old batch of vinegar and use it to begin a new batch. But no one does that anymore. Instead, they use something called an acetator—a fancy word for a fermentation unit—and during that process, sherry vinegars can develop compounds that smack of acetone. So if the sherry vinegar in your cabinet tastes a little like nail polish remover, that’s why. (And if the sherry vinegar in your cupboard does taste like nail polish remover, throw it out and go buy a new, better bottle.)

5. For Crispy Snickerdoodles, Use Butter and Vegetable Shortening: Unlike butter, vegetable shortening doesn’t contain any water. Using vegetable shortening in our Snickerdoodle recipe allows for the cookies to keep a nice shape—they don’t spread too much on the pan—and ensures a crisp outer edge.

Quote of the Week: “I could probably dip my finger in [that cup] and it would remove any kind of polish I may have on my hand. Of course, you wouldn’t be sipping sherry vinegar out of shot glasses at home.”       —Bridget Lancaster, referring to her least favorite sample in a blind tasting of sherry vinegar, and the test kitchen’s unique approach to tasting the ingredient

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