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Friday, April 6, 2012

Risk it with a Brisket

There's been a lot of talk about brisket at my work place.  It's one of the traditional foods of a Passover Seder, and as I work for a synagogue, conversations regarding Passover foods is a common occurrence.  I haven't made a brisket since I worked at Whole Foods, back in 2002 so you can say I'm long over due for this meal.  My coworker, Tracy, asked everyone in my office for recipe ideas and I told her about mine.  Which got me to thinking a lot about brisket and got me very hungry for brisket.  I think ten years is a long enough time to wait for this meal!  

Don't let the cooking process, the cut of beef or the time of year deter you from making this.  Brisket is a year-round great dish.  You don't have to be Jewish, observing a Seder or deep in the winter comfort food mode to enjoy it.  Briskets are a cut of beef from the lower chest of the cow/steer.  They are generally very tasty but extremely tough cuts of meat.  Usually they are lean, especially if you get the "first cut brisket".  They need to be cooked low and slow, with lots of root vegetables, seasonings and a flavorful liquid.  I used the usual mixture of carrots, celery and onions.  A cup of a good red wine, a small can of Coke (Kosher Coke if you are keeping this kosher for Passover); tomato sauce, a mixture of herbs and seasonings and water.  It's one of those toss it all into the slow-cooker/Dutch oven meals that a non-cook can make.  The hardest thing about making this is pureeing half of the vegetables and juices to make a flour-free gravy.  

You can make this more elaborate and complicated, but really, why bother?  At Whole Foods, I would rub the briskets with a spice blend, then grill/sear the briskets before putting them into a huge roasting pan filled with pounds of coarsely chopped vegetables, wine and water.  That was about as complicated as I ever got.

The brisket I purchased was a kosher brisket from Trader Joe's.  Do not buy a corned beef brisket, that's a totally different thing.  You want an uncooked/uncured/un-seasoned brisket of beef.  I threw it into my ancient and trusty Le Creset Dutch Oven pot with the veggies and liquids and a Turkish Seasoning Blend I got from Penzey's Spice Shop.  It cooked at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3 hours.  After a few hours it was done.  All I did next was let it cool and sit overnight in the refrigerator before slicing it, and pureeing half of the vegetables and au jus for a low-fat and pure vegetable "gravy".  

While my Jewish co-workers are enjoying their briskets over dairy-free mashed potatoes, I've been having mine served over egg noodles.  Just about any starchy side dish that can help soak up this amazing gravy would be delicious.  It's imperative that you let the meat sit and cool before slicing so that it stays intact and yields slices and not shreds.  You'll want to add a bit of fresh parsley to the final dish to add some colour to the gravy.  Other than that it's a very easy meal to make.  This recipe will serve 4 people.  For larger servings increase the ingredients by 1/4th for every 2 additional servings, adding a bit more liquids, seasonings and carrots, celery and onions for each extra pound of beef. 

This recipe works best in a Dutch Oven, slow roasted.  If you prefer to use a slow cooker/Crock Pot, then I recommend that you sear the meat to brown it, and saute the vegetables to develop flavor and colour.  Reduce the amount of water to 1/4 of a cup.  Cook on high for 3 hours or on low for up to 6 hours.

Brisket Ingredients:

  • 3 Pound Brisket - trimmed of fat and silver skin/membranes (VERY IMPORTANT - the silver skin does not melt, cook off or get tender!)
  • 4 Medium/Large Carrots - cut into large chunks
  • 3 Medium/Large Celery Ribs - cut into large chunks
  • 2 Large Onions - cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1/4 Cup Seasoning Mix - Oregano, Thyme, Cumin, Smoked Paprika, Garlic Powder, Parsley - or whatever smokey/spicy spice blend that you like.  Think in terms of Turkish/Mexican/Middle Eastern.
  • 1 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Tomato Sauce (salt free)
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1 Cup Dry Red Wine
  • 12 ounces/1 can Coke (NOT DIET!!!!); A good root beer or Dr. Pepper will work well too
  • 3 Bay Leaves
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley - Chopped, for garnishing

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Trim the brisket of any excess fat and of most, if not all, the silver skin/membrane.  Season the brisket generously with the spice blend, rubbing it all over the meat on all sides.  Set aside.
  3. Peel, clean and chop all the vegetables, cutting them into large chunks.  Put the chopped vegetables into the Dutch Oven; place the brisket on top of the vegetables, submerging it slightly under the chopped vegetables.
  4. Pour the wine, water, tomato sauce and Coke over the brisket and vegetables.
  5. Place the bay leaves and salt into the pot, cover with a lid and place the pot into the preheated oven.
  6. Cook for 2 hours, undisturbed; then reduce heat down to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for another 45 minutes.  Remove the lid and cook another half hour.  
  7. After the brisket has cooked for a total of 3 hours and 15 minutes, remove the pot from the oven.  Remove the meat and separate from the vegetables and the juices that have accumulated.  Cool everything before covering and refrigerating overnight before slicing and serving.  If you don't have time to let the brisket cool and let sit over night, cool it for at least 1 hour to allow the meat to set before slicing.
  8. When you are ready to serve the brisket, carve the meat against the grain and slice in into no more than an 1/4 of an inch thick slices; ideally the slices should be 1/8th thick.  
  9. CAREFULLY Puree half of the vegetable and juice in either a blender, food processor or use an immersion blender to puree the mixture.  Keep some of the vegetables intact for serving.  Reheat the sliced brisket in the gravy with the remaining juices and vegetables.  Serve hot over smashed/mashed/roasted potatoes or over egg noodles.  Garnish with freshly chopped parsley.
  10. Will keep covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days.  The brisket and gravy will freeze well, and keep for up to 3 months.

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