Chemical-free Corned Beef

University chef introduces students to corned beef made naturally and with no waste.

Published in FSD C&U Spotlight

Students at Lawrence University, in Appleton, Wis., recently got to enjoy a very rare treat—a chemical-free corned beef made on site. What’s more, the naturally brined meat was made with almost zero waste.

The corned beef, which was served at a carving station in the residence hall dining room at the 1,500-student university, was created by Executive Chef Alan Shook and Sous Chef William Bauman. The men work for Bon Appétit, the university’s foodservice provider. According to Bauman, the idea came about after some brainstorming about healthier foods.

“We are always trying to find new ways to serve our students healthy and natural food,” Bauman says. “We were reviewing our menu and saw that corned beef was coming up. We’ve had some students in the past tell us that they can’t have things like corned beef because of the nitrites and other chemicals using in the brining. Chef [Shook] and I were talking about it, and we decided there had to be a way to make our own without using chemicals.”

One of the main ingredients in traditional corned beef is tinted curing mixture, which is composed of 94% salt and 6% sodium nitrite. Its purpose is to preserve meat and prevent botulism.

Some searching on the Internet turned up a blog called Nourished Kitchen, which gave the men the recipe they needed. Replacing the tinted curing mixture would be a mix of whey, celery juice and unrefined sea salt. As they began the revamp process, the chefs also set about aiming for a trifecta: naturally made, using local products and leaving no waste.

“We began with a local yogurt, which we wrapped in cheesecloth and hung in the kitchen to extract the whey,” Bauman explains. “After we got as much out of it with this method as we could, we then pressed the yogurt to get out even more liquid. The result was actually a cheese called labneh, which is popular in the Middle East. So we were able to get two products and produce no waste.”

The team did the same with the celery, which they puréed in a blender to extract the juice. Celery juice contains the natural nitrites needed for the preservation of the meat. The celery pulp was made into a sachet, which can be used to help flavor vegetable stocks.

Equal parts whey and celery juice, combined with salt, made up the brine. The beef was rubbed with spices, submerged in the brine and placed in a cooler for seven days.

“Meanwhile, we took our local yogurt and used colanders, large coffee filters, plates and some weights to press out as much of the remaining liquid as we could,” Bauman says. “It made a denser labneh for a better mouthfeel and spreadability. The final product turned out so well it actually takes on the flavor profile of chevre goat cheese, and we’ve started offering it as a healthy alternative spread in our café.”

When the beef was ready, it was simmered in a mixture of brine and additional water for about three hours and then served at the carving station.

“It was definitely worth the effort. We had a juicy, tender corned beef with great flavor and a beautiful light pink hue,” Bauman says. “In the end, the only waste was the brine we discarded. We made a healthier product for our customers and a cool new method to share with the rest of the team.”

More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
busy kitchen

While catering a wedding for a previous employer years ago, Rahul Shrivastav—now director of catering at University of Michigan—found himself in a panic when an elevator malfunction put salad service on hold. “The wedding was in a very old building and the elevator had issues,” he says. “We had 200 plated salads in the freight elevator when it got stuck. The dinner needed to start—they were doing their toasts.” In a panic, Shrivastav hustled up a plan B: His team would station a chef outside the ballroom, and he’d plate new salads right there.

Luckily, the elevator was fixed in...

Ideas and Innovation
desserts plate

We’re knocking down a wall in our bar area, which will create a more inviting atmosphere and allow us to host a coffee and dessert bar in the space on off nights when the bar is closed.

Ideas and Innovation
soup sandwich

Aside from Black Friday shoppers, there may be no crowd of people more eager to get to their bounty than wedding guests headed for the passed appetizers. While they’re surely thrilled for the bride and groom, that feeling comes second to the thrill of landing that first shrimp skewer—especially after a long ceremony. Same goes for work-related cocktail parties. Caught up in an awkward conversation? Oh look, it’s the mini-grilled cheese guy!

This month, FoodService Director takes a deep dive into catering, from the latest and greatest in menus to starting a new program at your...

Ideas and Innovation
shrimp lemon

In an interview with Bon Appetit magazine, Victor Clay, a line cook at Nobu Dallas in Texas, reveals his two simple tricks to prep an average of 15 to 20 shrimp per minute.

First, use kitchen shears to split the back of the shrimp. Then, before removing the vein, run the shrimp under cold water, which will loosen the vein. This cuts down on cleaning time, and prevents cooks from having to soak and rinse the shrimp afterward.

FSD Resources