QUARANTINE KITCHEN NOTE: If you don’t have brisket, this recipe works well with pot roast or short ribs. If you don’t have homemade or canned stock, use water (or wine!). If you are cooking for 1 to 2 or 4 persons instead of a crowd this year, consider making the whole (or half) recipe. Divide the sliced meat into several portions to freeze and use later.
Pure and simple brisket
I’ve been making brisket this way for nearly forty years, ever since I learned a version of this recipe from Fran Loew, when we were nursery-school parents together. The recipe calls for onions, garlic, bay leaves, stock, and, of course, a great piece of well-raised beef. No ketchup, sugar, gingersnaps, flour, or beer mask the savory focus of this iconic dish. You will be amazed at how much flavor the roasting-and-braising technique delivers. I rarely need to add salt or pepper. Although there will be more waste and shrinkage, for a more flavorful result, it is best to use a brisket that includes the fattier “point” that rests like a split-level on the leaner “flat.” Like all good party food, brisket is best made at least a day ahead, chilled before slicing, and then reheated to serve.
Makes 12 servings
1 beef brisket, 6 pounds (2.7 kg), about 8 x 12 x 3 inches (20 x 30.5 x 7.5 cm) thick, including at least some of the point
2 large onions, chopped, about 3 cups (480 g)
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 bay leaves
4 cups (960 ml) homemade beef stock (SJK page 66), or 2 cups (480 ml) canned beef broth diluted with 2 cups (480 ml) water, heated
Preheat the oven to 475°F (240°C). Pat the meat dry, then place flat side down on a work surface. Trim the excess fat from the brisket, especially around the point, or cap. Do your best to leave a layer of fat no more than ¼ inch (6 mm) thick. This will give you enough fat to flavor the meat but not so much that it overpowers it.
Place the meat, point side down, in a large roasting pan and roast, turning once halfway through the cooking, until thoroughly browned and crisp on both sides, about 1 hour.
Add chopped onions to the pan, scattering them around the brisket. Stir to coat the onions with the drippings and scrape up any brown bits. Return the brisket to the oven and roast until the onions are soft, about 15 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and reduce the heat to 350°F (180°C). Add garlic and bay leaves to the pan. The brisket should be point side up. Pour in enough stock to reach about 1 inch (2.5 cm) up the sides of the brisket (about 2 cups/480 ml), and stir to scrape up brown bits. Cover the pan tightly with a lid or heavy-duty foil and return it to the oven. Braise until very tender, about 3 hours. Check the meat every 30 minutes during the cooking time and add stock as needed to keep the simmering juice about 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep and to keep the onions from burning. You may not need all 4 cups (960 ml) of stock, but if you do run out of stock, add water.
Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the brisket to a shallow pan or platter. Pour the pan juices and onions into a glass container. Add a little water to the pan, place over medium heat, and stir, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom. Add these drippings to the container.
Let the meat and juices cool. Ideally, refrigerate them overnight. Lift the congealed fat from the juices and discard. Spread a few spoonfuls of the jellied meat juices and onions over the bottom of an ovenproof rimmed platter or shallow 9 x 13-inch (23 x 30.5-cm) baking dish.
There are a couple of ways to slice a brisket: Slice through the horizontal layer of fat that separates the point from the flat lower part of the brisket and lift off the point and set it aside. Cut the flat against the grain into slices ¼ inch (6 mm) thick. This is where you’ll get your neat slices. Then, do your best to cut slices from the point across its grain. This is the part of the brisket that falls apart from long cooking that everyone loves to pick at or use to soak up juices and mashed potatoes. Or, leave the two parts attached and cut against the grain into slices ¼ inch (6 mm) thick; with each slice topped by long fibers from the point.
Lay the meat slices, overlapping them, on the prepared platter. Scatter a few spoonfuls of the juices and onions over the meat. (The brisket can be prepared up to this point, covered tightly, and refrigerated overnight, with the extra juices refrigerated separately. Or it can be frozen for up to 2 weeks, with the remaining juices frozen separately. Thaw the meat and juices before reheating.
To heat and serve the brisket, preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Cover the platter tightly with heavy-duty foil and place in the oven until the brisket is heated through. Warm the extra pan juices and onions separately. Spoon some of them over the warm meat and serve the remainder at the table.
Reprinted with permission from The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen © 2015 by Amelia Saltsman, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by Staci Valentine.