Thursday, April 19, 2012

Back to London: A Perfect Day on Brick Lane with Good Friends and a Salt Beef Sandwich

There once was a time when I would schlep two heavy bags back and forth on my trips to the UK.  I used to arrive bags bursting with foods and gifts from home for my hosts, and then on my return I would fill them back up with English goodies for my family, but no more, British Airways has taken care of that with their one bag rule. 

I’m really not complaining.  BA has made me rethink the way I travel.  I’ve streamlined things a lot and instead of looking like some urban beast of burden while dragging one of England’s crazy airport luggage trolleys around, I now glide through the airport pulling just one bag with a small carry on on top.  Love it, but it has made me super paranoid weighing my bag everytime I add a pair of socks to the pile.
After nine days in Nottingham I packed up my 46 pounds of clothing and souvenirs and headed back to London for three more days with my friends Susan and Adrian.  I met Susan over the cheese case in Sainsbury’s in Nottingham many years ago.  She was chatting with her sister-in-law, and being hungry for American companionship; I picked up on her accent and struck up a conversation.  We exchanged phone numbers and have been friends ever since.  I can't help but think that our friendship was meant to be.

Being pretty new to London themselves since selling their home in Nottingham, I loved exploring the Londoner’s London with them.  They have two daughters living on their own here so they have clued them in on all the really cool and happening places we should see.  I really thought I knew this city pretty well until this trip and realized that I hadn’t even scratched the surface. 

Since I just had a couple more days left of my holiday we hit the ground running.  On Sunday we headed over to Spitalfields Market.   This is a large open air market packed with stalls brimming with clothing and arts and crafts.  It is a wonderful place to shop if you aren’t close to your luggage weight limit or haven’t recently downsized your home.  Seeing that that pretty much left all of us out, we had a quick look around and decided to move on.

Since we weren't really in the market for any gifts or clothing and it was close to lunch, Susan asked one of the local vendors where we could grab a good bite.  She directed us a couple of blocks over to a food court that was supposed to have some pretty good food. 

We followed her directions and wound our way over to Brick Lane.   Brick Lane is located in London’s colorful East End in the Borough of Tower Hamlet.  Once known as Whitechapel Lane, this street is now home to a diverse population whose roots stem from hundreds of years of change and cultural evolution. 

Brick Lane is also the location of a Sunday market that began long ago with the dispensation given to the Jewish community allowing them to trade on Sundays.  Up and down this road you can find everything from fruit and vegetables to antiques and bric-a-brac.  Bustling Brick Lane on a Sunday is one more reason why London is my favorite city ever.

The food court we were looking for was located in a large building tucked in the middle of an endless row of curry houses.  Inside, makeshift kitchens containing every type of ethnic food you can imagine line the perimeter and coil around to the center.  After many, many samples we each made the difficult decision of what our lunch was going to be, paid our 5 pounds and headed out to find a place on the curb to sit and enjoy our lunch.

After finishing our curbside lunch, we took our sticky hands and full stomachs and headed further down the street.  We were amazed to see that our food court wasn’t the only one as the food and goodness stretched for blocks and blocks.

Just about the time we thought the street buffet was over, we ran across a London institution, the Brick Lane Beigel Bakery.   Open 24/7, which is quite unusual for shops in the UK, it is my understanding that there is a constant a queue for their inexpensive and fresh kosher foods.  
A peek at the Brick Lane Beigel Bakery's kitchen from the queue.

In the front window of this shop they have a tempting display of large moist slabs of salt beef which they are happy to slice for you and pile on a fresh bagel or light rye for the incredible price of 4 measly pounds.  By this time my partner in dietary crime (aka Adrian) and I got caught up in the spirit of the place, and since I had never tried it before, and we were ready for a little dessert anyway, we found ourselves ordering one.

We stood in the fast moving line for what seemed like an eternity until we stepped out into the bright sunshine with a little bit of heaven in our hands (I swear I could hear the angels sing).  We had opted to have our salt beef served the traditional way on light rye with a healthy slathering of English mustard and a generous amount of sliced gherkins arranged on top.  Adrian handed me my half and I carefully raised the warm sandwich to my mouth just as the one slice of pickle on my half squirted out the bottom bouncing off the top of the electrical cabinet we were using as a dining table.  Damn!

Knowing how heartbroken I was, Susan tried to make it better by convincing me that the 5 second rule had surely not been violated, and then even tried to talk me into cleaning it off with an antibacterial wipe.  Even though I must admit that I considered it for just a second, the movie Contagion came to mind and I just couldn’t.  No sir, my maiden voyage into English salt beef was going to have to be sans gherkin, and I'm happy to say that I loved it anyway.

English salt beef is really just corned beef to us Americans.  Wanting to cure my own for some time, I thought that this was my perfect opportunity.  Still wanting to have that true English salt beef experience, I combined a couple of English recipes, cleaned out the fridge and let it cure for 10 days.  As you will see in my recipe, I boiled mine; served it on light rye with big dollop of mustard (I used extra strong Dijon) and lots and lots of extra pickles just in case.

Salt Beef

4 cups water
1/4 cup sea salt
2 lightly packed tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon pink salt (also known as Prague powder, curing salt or salt peter)
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
6 juniper berries
4 allspice berries
1 star anise
1 large sprig thyme
1 large bay leaf, broken
1 medium size dried Thai chili
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 whole cloves
1 – 1/2 pound beef brisket
1 medium size onion, coarsely chopped
2 large celery stalks, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
Place all of the ingredients except the brisket into a medium size sauce pan.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook for 4 minutes.  Cool.
Place brisket into a large zipper seal bag.  Pour cooled brine over the brisket in the bag.  Place in the refrigerator for 7 - 10 days, turning over once every day.
After curing time, remove the meat from the brine and place in a large stock pot and cover with clean cool water.  Add onion, celery and carrot.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until fork tender.  Mine took right at 3 hours. 
Remove from the water and rest, covered for 15 minutes.  Slice and serve. 
Makes 4 – 6 hearty sandwiches


Midwest to Midlands said...

That is some dedication and patience making your own corned beef, looks delish though. I agree once you get used to the lighter luggage it is great.

Angela said...

I am so loving reading about your trip, Karen. It is making me ache to go visit. Beautiful sandwich...

DaniD said...

Such wonderful & descriptive pictures and a great recipe to go with them! Also as a side note, I had NO idea you had so many posts on Foodgawker! Beautiful pictures :)

Ansh said...

What a gifted writer you are. You make me want to leave everything right now and walk the streets of London.

Keep them coming!

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

Whilst I was reading your article, and you do manage to bring us along with you, I could not wait to see the salt beef of your title. Lo and behold it's corned favorite.

This was not a good time to read this. It's 7:30p; I've not had any dinner and now my tummy is growling for that sandwich, with, of course...a gherkin!

I wish Jason's Deli delivered.

Holly Botner said...

You have been chosen for the Versatile Bloggers Award! Congratulations!! Check it out at

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Traveling has certainly become more challenging of late. I can remember when I would pack an empty duffle bag just for items that I bought on visits to Europe. Now I'm luck to have room in the allotted luggage for one nice tiny bottle of body lotion or shampoo that I might have fallen in love with from one of the hotels that I stay in. Nice job on your corned beef sandwich.

Denise said...

What a great trip! Loved reading this post and that recipe looks incredible. Thanks so much!

Lorie said...

Love, love, love corned beef but have never made my own. Your sandwich looks amazing. What fun to get to visit London--lucky you! And I hear you about traveling light. It is kind of nice not having to check bags, and having everything with you on the plane (no lost luggage), but it's also challenging to pack light (for me anyway). Those heavy wedge heeled sandal get me over my weight limit every time!

CharlesR said...

Boiled is the ONLY way to have Corned Beef!

Have a Joyful Day :~D