Braised brisket, the classic dish for Passover or St Patrick’s Day, is tender and moist thanks to a long oven braise with onions, mushrooms and sweet wine.
Boiled beef? Yuck
I’ve discovered braising thanks to the lovely Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat book by Samin Nosrat and I can’t get enough. I’ve braised pork and gammon and lamb and now the time has come for beef.
As much as I love pork or lamb stews I was never that keen on beef cooked this way, bourguignon or otherwise.
‘Boiled beef!’ - I’d snort explosively; the meat both soggy and dry at the same time is surely not to be appreciated. I would waver in my derision when it came to pastrami and salt beef, but I was in denial of the cooking method. ‘Cured, that’s different’ - I’d state decisively and refuse to know.
Appraise the braise
As so many times before, I was proved devastatingly wrong: it is to be much appreciated if treated right.
Braising is a poor man’s trick, and beef brisket is not a cut of choice. Traditional staple on St Patrick’s Day or for Passover, those folk did not historically feast on roast sirloins.
It’s a tough old boot, is brisket and so it requires coaxing into tenderness, for hours, plied with sweet wine.
The choice of aromatics is free but I’ll say this particular selection makes very good sauce. And sauce is a must: sweet wine or not, it will still be on the dry side when sliced and treated as a roast joint.
We had the leftovers shredded and turned into tacos and that was the perfect follow-up to a glorious dish.
What cut is brisket?
Brisket is the cut from the breast of a cow, above the front legs. It is roughly speaking the cow’s pecs, and because cattle don’t have collar bones, those breast muscles work hard to keep Bessie upright or down right, grazing.
And obviously, the more hardworking the muscles, the tougher the meat.
That’s why, when it comes to cooking brisket, the common methods combine smoking and barbecuing, as in Texas, or boiling, braising, pot-roasting and pressing, as in the British, Jewish, Korean or German cuisines.
How to marinate brisket?
This is a sort of dry marinade, which consists of salt and pepper generously, plus lots of crushed garlic, mustard seeds and herbs.
The active tenderising ingredient here is salt, and the aromatics add flavour. The meat needs to sit in the fridge overnight and up to two days.
You could put together fancy marinades but in my view it is the sauce that will give the meat its flavour, when served. And the sauce will be created through braising the brisket with some fragrant ingredients.
What to braise brisket with?
Plenty of onions, some dried wild mushrooms and half a bottle of inexpensive dessert wine – that’s the best combination for the brisket braise.
When you sit the browned meat on top of those ingredients, like on a bed, they will cook down and almost dissolve, imparting the taste and flavour into the liquid, thus making an incredible sauce.
How long does it take?
Brisket needs to be browned thoroughly before going into the braise and the oven, and I like to scorch the onions as well. The flavour of browned onions is imperative for the sauce.
When everything’s seared and ready to go in the oven, the wine can be added about to halfway up the brisket. Don’t use more than half a bottle of wine: top the liquid up with water if it’s short.
For the first hour the meat braises covered, after that the lid comes off. Try to turn the meat over every half an hour or so, so it braises evenly. After about four to five hours, it should be fork-tender.
And then it can rest for a few minutes, while you strain and cook down the sauce a little, if necessary.
More beef recipes
Carne asada, translated as ‘grilled meat’ is a Mexican dish of thinly sliced, marinated and grilled beef. Carne asada can be made from flank, skirt, sirloin or rump steak. Cooked on a grill, barbecue or in a skillet, thinly sliced carne asada is the best in tacos.
Spicy seared bavette steak, seasoned with a dry rub of chilli flakes, oregano, garlic and a secret umami agent: dried mushroom powder.
Best red wine braised short ribs of beef with plum sauce, sweet and tender, called Obama’s short ribs, after the dish served to Barack Obama in a Harlem restaurant.
More braising recipes
Braised pork shoulder with chilies: braised pork roast Mexican style. This beer braised pork shoulder takes four hours to cook and the result is so tender it can be pulled or shredded. Use slow roasting cuts like shoulder or belly.
Oven braised racks of baby back pork ribs with Creole seasoning and maple syrup glaze, cooked for 4 hours into tender perfection.
Quartered pheasant braised with juniper berries, thyme and mace and served with cooked chestnuts – it’s a wonderful, warming wintery dish.