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.
(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.