Joan Nathan's Pickled Tongue or Brisket

Closed up of sliced brisket on wooden cutting board
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Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 2 hrs
Refrigerate: 240 hrs
Total: 242 hrs 10 mins
Servings: 8 to 10 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
524 Calories
41g Fat
2g Carbs
35g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8 to 10
Amount per serving
Calories 524
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 41g 52%
Saturated Fat 15g 74%
Cholesterol 239mg 80%
Sodium 2329mg 101%
Total Carbohydrate 2g 1%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 35g
Vitamin C 3mg 13%
Calcium 17mg 1%
Iron 5mg 27%
Potassium 350mg 7%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

We may know it by the name "corned beef," but this favorite Jewish deli item is actually pickled brisket or beef tongue, which means the meat is cured in a salt and spice mixture and then boiled. The pickling can be done either before or after cooking the meat; in this recipe, from Joan Nathan's "Jewish Cooking in America: Expanded Edition" (Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1998), the pickling is done first.

Spices, such as peppercorns, ginger, cloves, bay leaves, nutmeg, and paprika, as well as brown sugar, garlic, and a large amount of kosher salt, are rubbed onto the meat. Then saltpeter, which is another name for potassium nitrate, is mixed with water and poured over the tongue or brisket; this solution kills bacteria and draws out the moisture, essentially curing the meat. Saltpeter has long been used in curing foods, but you can eliminate it if you prefer. The beef is then left to pickle in the refrigerator for about two weeks. Once it is cured, it needs to be boiled several times and then simmered until tender.

To enjoy this pickled beef tongue or brisket, slice the meat thinly and serve with mustard or horseradish, as a sandwich on rye bread or just on its own.


  • 4 pounds beef tongue, or beef brisket

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns

  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger

  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 tablespoon saltpeter, potassium nitrate

  • 1/2 cup warm water

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Wash and remove most of the fat from the tongue or brisket.

  3. In a bowl, mix together the salt, spices, brown sugar, and garlic. Rub the mixture all over the meat. Place the meat in a large, nonmetal container that will fit in your refrigerator or a plastic zip-top bag.

  4. Dissolve the saltpeter in the warm water and pour over the meat. Weigh the meat down with a plate and something heavy on top, like a clean stone or brick, and cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 10 to 14 days, turning the meat every 2 to 3 days.

  5. Remove the meat from the pickling solution and place it in a large pot of cold water. Bring to a boil, remove the meat, and discard the water. Repeat this process 3 more times.

  6. Place the meat in the pot and cover with cold water again; bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for about 2 hours or until tender.

  7. If cooking tongue, peel the skin off while it is still warm. Cool the meat and slice thinly.

  8. Serve on a platter with mustard or horseradish or as a sandwich.

  9. Enjoy.