Brisket! ‘Tis the season.
I mean to make brisket more than I actually do. I keep hoping a smoker will magically appear in my back yard, so that I might spend a day in a lawn chair like a lady in waiting to an enormous brisket, mopping it hourly, in pursuit of the perfect smoke ring.
But braising will do too. Because brisket comes from the lower chest of the animal, it contains plenty of connective tissue, requiring a long, slow braise to break it all down. Because smokers have not yet become a common household item, braising is by far the most common way to cook brisket – and there are as many ways to do it as there are people making it.
Braising is simple – all you need is a heavy pot, a chunk of meat, low heat and some liquid. I love my enamel-coated cast iron braising pots – you can set them on the stovetop, brown your meat and veg, then add liquid and slide the whole thing into the oven, making use of those browned bits in the bottom of the pan, the heavy lid keeping just enough moisture in to reduce everything to an intensely thick, rich gravy. (With no need for flour to thicken.) You could do all this in the slow cooker, but I like the darker, deeper sauce you get from a pot in the oven.
I started mine with a dry rub of paprika, thyme, salt and pepper. Common enough. Brown it until it has dark, crispy edges, then do the same with the onions, until they’re soft and turning golden. Then return the meat to the pan, add tomatoes and stock (or beer, or wine) and some sprigs of thyme and bay leaves, if you have them, and then let the oven do the rest.
I like to let brisket go for a good 4 hours – it’s even better the next day, so feel free to make it one day, cool, cover the pot and refrigerate the whole thing overnight, then slide it back into the oven to rewarm when you’re ready to serve it. I’ve heard of Jewish grandmas making it days in advance of their big dinners, or freezing it for weeks beforehand. (Because everything has broken down so well, braised dishes are perfect candidates for freezing.)
Apologies for the quick, early morning brisket shot on a white tile that makes it look as if it’s floating –
Some people add a splash of vinegar to the pot – red wine or balsamic – others use red wine as the liquid, or a combination of wine and stock. If you like, add a sprig or two of fresh thyme or oregano to the pot instead of rubbing it over the meat. Enamel-coated cast iron is ideal for brisket; if you don’t have one, brown your meat in a heavy skillet, then transfer it to a baking dish and cover with foil to braise. Or use the slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours.
2-3 lb. brisket
1 Tbsp. paprika
2 tsp. thyme or oregano
salt and freshly ground black pepper
canola or olive oil, for cooking
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 14 oz (398 mL) can whole or diced tomatoes, with their juices
3 cups chicken or beef stock
2 bay leaves (optional)
Pat your brisket dry and sprinkle it with paprika, thyme, and plenty of salt and pepper; rub it all over the surface on both sides.
Set an ovenproof pot (one in which the brisket will fit fairly snugly is ideal) over medium-high heat and add a generous drizzle of oil. Brown the brisket on both sides, then transfer to a plate and add the onions to the pan. Cook for a few minutes, until starting to soften and turn golden. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
Return the brisket to the pan and add the tomatoes, stock and bay leaves. Cover and braise at 325F for 3-4 hours, lifting the lid to flip the meat once or twice – and leave the lid off for a bit if you want to reduce the liquid. If it’s cooking off too quickly and looking dry, add a splash more stock, or even some water.
To serve, slice against the grain and spread out on a platter, topped with sauce. If you like, prepare the brisket a day ahead to allow the flavours to develop – cool then refrigerate in the pot overnight, then reheat in the oven when you’re ready for it. Serve leftovers in soft buns, or make tacos or fajitas.