— by Elana Horwich
Brisket is incredibly easy to make and pretty hard to mess up: You can add a little too much of this, or a bit too little of that, but as long as you have a few basics, all of the flavors will meld perfectly with time in the oven to bring you a delicious, juicy brisket.
The problem with many briskets, however, is that they are either too sweet, too dry and/or too fatty. Furthermore, they can be both too dry and too fatty.
The brisket cut of meat is historically poor man’s food; it cost less than tender cuts of meat like filet mignon, but if cooked long enough will be just as tender.
It takes a lot of time at a low temperature to break down the tension in the meat so that it will fall apart with no knife needed. As long as the liquid is plentiful, the longer it cooks the better. One time I set my oven to 200°F, put the brisket in at night and woke up in the morning to a brisket breakfast.
To make a juicy, tender brisket, you need to have a good pot. I use a Le Creuset enameled cast-iron dutch oven. Such top brands may not be inexpensive, but they will last you for many years and really make a difference in your cooking.
I cook my brisket much in the same way a Northern Italian might braise a different cut of beef: in wine, tomatoes and herbs.
Ingredients for about 10 dishes:
- a 6-8 pound brisket
- 2 onions, coarsely chopped
- 2-3 stalks celery with leaves, coarsely chopped
- 2-3 carrots, coarsely chopped
- 2-3 cloves peeled garlic, whole
- 2 bay leaves
- 2-3 branches of rosemary
- 2-3 stems of fresh thyme (optional)
- 5-6 fresh basil leaves (optional)
- 1/2 bottle wine, like an oaked chardonnay or medium bodied red like chianti
- 28 oz. whole peeled tomatoes
- chicken broth (if needed for more liquid)
- salt — 2-3 teaspoons
- extra virgin olive oil
- 5-6 russet potatoes, quartered
A day or two before:
- Preheat an oven to 325°F.
- Heat a dutch oven over a medium flame. When hot, add olive oil.
- Put the brisket in on one side to brown for a few minutes, and then turn it to brown on the other side. (One side will have a lot of fat and you are trying to brown the fat-less parts if any.)
- Remove the brisket and set aside.
- If the melted fat is too much for your taste, remove a little before continuing.
- Put in onions and cook until translucent.
- Put the brisket back in, fat side up, so that the fat will insulate the beef and keep in the juices.
- Top with the carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, thyme, and basil.
- The next step can get messy but it is fun: Take out the tomatoes, one by one, and crush using your hand, a knife or a neater system. Watch out for spurting juice. Pour in all juices from the can.
- Add wine. Make sure you have enough liquid in the pot (wine, broth, etc.) to mostly cover the meat.
- Sprinkle generously with salt.
- Cover well and put in the oven for 4-5 hours (or longer at an even lower temperature).
- When the brisket can be cut with a fork, it is done. Take it out of oven and let sit to cool a bit.
- Take brisket out of juices and let cool completely. When cool, refrigerate it covered.
- In the meantime put the potatoes in the juice of the brisket in dutch oven and put on stove, covered, over medium flame, until potatoes are soft and cooked.
- Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Save all brisket juices.
The next day:
- Once cold, use a knife to slice off all the fat from the brisket. Then slice the brisket against the grain into 1/4-inch slices. Place in a casserole dish fit for the oven. Add potatoes if the casserole has room, or put them in a separate casserole dish.
- If you think the brisket juices should be thicker, boil them down a bit on the stove. Then when cool, you can cover the meat and potatoes with the sauce.
- Refrigerate until ready to use.
Day of serving:
When you are ready to serve, you can heat up the brisket in one of two ways:
- Place potatoes and meat in casserole dishes and cover well in heavy-duty aluminum foil, or double-wrapped in regular foil, and bake on 350°F for almost an hour, until the brisket and potatoes are well heated through. Place on a serving platter, top the remaining juice, and serve.
- Keep everything in the dutch oven in which you baked it and heat on stove on medium-low heat, or in the oven at 350°F for one hour.
Elana Horwich is the creator of Meal and a Spiel. Her philosophy is that everyone can learn to cook.