tangy brisket

When it comes to cooking, I’m far more apt to bake than braise. Perhaps it’s the fact that I live alone. Or maybe it’s because there are so many grill-masters in my family already, while baking is a sort of under-represented talent. Regardless, I don’t cook a ton of meat, and I cook even fewer “large cuts.” Until recently, the thought of a roast beef, or whole turkey scared the bejezus out of me. So much meat! What if I messed it up???

Recent events have prompted me to reconsider my fear of big cuts. First was this recipe, and then my Thanksgiving turkey (which turned out wonderfully!). They’re great for feeding crowds without much work, and they make the nicest leftovers. My rule of thumb (for the time being, anyway) is to cook low and slow, which helps keep the meat tender, and to not try to do too much with it. Good meat is good meat. Let it speak for itself. Also, investing in a good meat thermometer helps.

The impetus for all this happened a few months ago when I got a hankering for brisket. Not dry rubbed Texas brisket, but swimming in sauce, sweet and tangy, slow braised brisket, like I had at the one and only Passover meal I’ve ever attended. Not having a Jewish mother at my disposal, I took matters into my own hands, did some internet research and headed to the market.

Side note: a funny thing happened at the market. All the briskets looked like meat doormats, all trimmed and square, with nary a shred of fat clinging to them. But I had a nice talk with the butcher, and he procured an untrimmed 8 lb. brisket from the back. If you go in search of brisket, this is what you want. The fat will melt in the cooking process and keep the meat moist.

Back in my kitchen, I used a Smitten Kitchen recipe for inspiration, adding my own improvisation for good measure. The result was spectacular. So spectacular, I didn’t end up with any of my coveted leftovers.

Tangy Brisket
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

3 large onions, sliced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 Tablespoon smoked paprika
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon teaspoons black pepper
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 Tablespoon dried thyme
2 cups beef stock
1 cup ketchup
a few dashes of Cholula (add enough to your liking)
a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
8 lb brisket
2 Tablespoons cornstarch (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Slice onions and chop garlic. Heat oil in a large pan and add onions and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat until the onions are translucent. Set aside. In a large bowl combine the spices, stock, ketchup, hot sauce and brown sugar. Mix well and set aside.

Get your brisket and pat dry with a paper towel. Set meat in a large pan or casserole dish with the fattiest side up. Pour the sauce mixture over the top, and then add the onions. Cover the pan with foil (careful, it will likely be very full), and bake until the meat is fork tender 3 to 4 hours.

Remove the pan from the oven, uncover and let sit 30 minutes to an hour. Remove the brisket from the pan carefully (tongs and a spatula are a good way to do this) and transfer to a cutting board. Use a spoon to scrape the excess fat from the meat and discard. Set the meat aside to cool a bit.

You can serve the meat/sauce as is, or if you like a thicker, smoother sauce, continue on: Transfer the sauce/juices in the pan to a bowl and let sit for 10 minutes. Use a ladle to skim the fat off the top of the sauce. Then, use and immersion blender to blend it smooth. If you want a thicker sauce add a tablespoon or two of cornstarch and blend smooth again. Transfer sauce to a saucepan to warm up if it’s too cold for your taste.

Slice your brisket against the grain, about a quarter-inch thick. Arrange slices on a plate and top with sauce. Serve extra sauce on the side.

Food field trip: Tendercrop Farm

You know how sometimes when you grow up with something and then you go back there as an adult, suddenly it’s not as good as you remembered it? Yeah, well that didn’t happen to me last weekend- and thank goodness.

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to take my sister and I to Tendercrop Farm in Newburyport. We’d visit Buffy the Buffalo and buy some treats… they always had great stuff like honey sticks and hot apple cider.

It had been quite a while since I’d been back, but last weekend I had a hankering to head to the North Shore and figured that while I was in the neighborhood, I’d check out what they had at Tendercrop. I am so glad I stopped by! I never paid much attention when I was a kid to what the farm was producing, but I was really impressed with the variety they offered and how they clearly labeled produce “Our Own” to differentiate it from things that weren’t grown on the premises. I stocked up on herbs, got a bunch of chard and some lovely little Concord grapes.

But what really surprised me is that Tendercrop produces their own meat, and sells it at a very reasonable price. I stocked up on some grass fed beef and got some lovely bone-in pork chops. These days, everyone is all high on organic veggies, but buying locally produced meat is even more important. Not only is it a sustainable choice, but it tastes so much better!

Though I meant to just grab a few things, I ended up with a cart full, and was sure I’d spent waaaay too much. Instead, it was about $60 for a weeks worth of vegetables and four or five meals worth of meat. That’s far less damage than I do when I go to Whole Foods.

One little splurge I made was on sodas. I’m not a huge soda drinker, but I have an affinity for artisan and regional ones that are hard to find. Tendercrop had a whole line of them, and so I picked up six. Three were the traditional root beer, ginger beer and cola, and three were in flavors I’d never seen before and couldn’t resist: maple cream (I love maple!), yup (what is that?!?!?) and half & half (half what?). They’re all made with cane sugar and natural flavors, and are bottled in New Hampshire, so I’m excited to give them a try.

Probably my favorite purchase was the Concord grapes, which look like large blue berries and have seeds. They’re so delicious- they taste like grape juice! Given the seeds and the thicker skin, I don’t know if they’re everyone’s cup of tea, but I really really liked them. Hopefully I can get some more before they go out of season.

While I was there, I stopped off and said hi to Buffy the Buffalo (I’m really not sure if it’s the same buffalo from when I was a kid… how long can a buffalo live?).

One of the guys who works at Tendercrop told me that the store has bread that you can feed to Buffy, so of course I got some. While Buffy didn’t seem to want any of it, her llama friend came running over. The way it (she? he?) scarfed it made me think of that scene in Napoleon Dynamite, which cracked me up. Look at how happy she looks.

Need I say I’ll be heading back to Tendercrop soon?