Thursday 8 December 2016

Slow-Roasted Brisket

Hi everybody! My apologies for the lack of material lately. It's been months since my last post. I didn't end up doing a Thanksgiving post this year. Truth be told, this year we tried a dry-brine method for our Thanksgiving turkey but while it was still tasty, it didn't quite do what we thought it would. We're going to try a similar method on our Christmas turkey. Once we have it all ironed out I will be sure to share it on the blog.

Although some annual traditions on the blog have been broken this year, this one has persevered: The Hanukkah recipe. Every year I do a Hanukkah recipe and a Christmas recipe. This year Hanukkah begins at sundown on December 24th. Many Jewish families will be preparing brisket during that time. Brisket is a popular Jewish holiday meal for a few reasons. Throughout history it has been an inexpensive cut of meat. Due to its size and need for lengthy cooking it's not convenient for every day preparation, therefore making it fit for a special occasion. Brisket also comes from the breast area of the cow and traditionally Jews abstain from eating meat from the hind quarters of cows, making it kosher.

Brisket is a tough cut of meat. Full of fat and connective tissue. All cuts of meat like this need to be cooked low and slow. High temperatures and quick cooking times won't be enough to render the meat. Good brisket isn't just tender - it melts in your mouth. Brisket is either slow roasted, braised in liquid or cooked for hours in a smoker. They are all delicious, but for me, nothing beats a good Texas-style smoked brisket. Done properly it's better than any steak you can get. The meat absorbs that beautiful smoky flavour over the course of hours but still maintains that beautiful, rare pink colour and it's so juicy. There are only two reasons why I'm not doing a smoked brisket recipe and they are as follows: I don't have a smoker and even if I did I live in Canada and it's December. That being said, this slow roasted method is still an incredible way to have brisket. It's fantastic with potatoes and veggies, but what brisket is also famous for is sandwiches. 

I used the brisket in this demonstration specifically for sandwiches for the work week. It was so good! I hardly needed a whole brisket however. A full cut of brisket has a fat end and a tapered end. The fat end is called the point and then tapered end is called the flat. I only used the flat cut for this recipe. 

Since I'm such a big fan of the Texas smoked brisket version, we're going to use some southern BBQ flavour from spices and add them to the meat. Cumin, smoked paprika, pepper and brown sugar all bring that sort of vibe. As a personal preference, I generally don't include salt or pepper to spice mixes. So season to your taste in that regard. After all, this is just a guideline. Feel free to tweak it or use another spice mix of your liking. 

A final note, this recipe calls for fresh rosemary. The flavour is amazing and works really well in this dish. Unfortunately the market was out of rosemary when I was gathering my ingredients for this demo. So while it is absent in the photos, I encourage you to use it. If not, no worries. Fortunately this brisket turned out just fine without it. 


Spice Rub:

Ground cumin 1 tbsp
Smoked paprika 1 tbsp
Chili powder 1 tbsp
Ground mustard 2 tsp
Cayenne pepper 2 tsp (optional, or to taste)
Garlic powder 1 tsp
Onion powder 1 tsp
Nutmeg, freshly ground 1/2 tsp

3-4 lb piece of brisket
1 onion, coarsely chopped,
2 carrots, coarsely chopped,
2 ribs of celery, coarsely chopped
1 bulb garlic, halved horizontally (don't bother removing the skins)
1 stalk of fresh rosemary
5 bay leaves
1 tbsp brown sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
1-2 tbsp of olive oil, for marinating
2 tbsp of neutral oil (like vegetable or canola), for frying

Here is the brisket flat that I had to work with. It was about 3.2 lbs. Here is one side, which you can see has quite a bit of fat on it:

The other side is quite fatty as well. Unless your cut has much more fat than what you see here, do not trim any of it off. It will add flavour to the meat as it cooks, prevent it from drying out and much of it will melt away completely. What ever fat might not can easily be removed when it's finished cooking. If you prefer to keep it on even after cooking, knock yourself out. But it is crucial that the fat stays on during the cooking process. 

Preheat oven to 275 F/135 C. First step is to combine all of the spices for your rub.

Slather the brisket in 1-2 tbsp of olive oil until it is lightly coated all over. Season to taste with salt and pepper. I encourage you to be generous with both as this is a big piece of meat. Then, use your hands to rub the spices all over. Really get your fingers in there. There is no tool better for this job than your own clean, bare hands. 

Then seal in a plastic bag and leave it in the fridge to marinate overnight. In a pinch you could get away with a couple of hours, but overnight is preferred. 

Remove the brisket from the fridge and let it sit for an hour or two until it comes back up to room temperature. Warm a large pot or dutch oven (cast iron is perfect) over medium-high heat and add 2 tbsp of a neutral oil (like canola or vegetable). Olive oil is not a good alternative as it has too low a smoking point for this job. Then sear the brisket on each side for 3-4 minutes and 1-2 for the sides. You want a nice sear all over the meat. This seals in the spices, develops flavour and creates a nice crust. 

Remove the brisket and add the onion to the pot. Add a pinch of salt and a tbsp of brown sugar. The salt will help to sweat the onions and the brown sugar will help to caramelize them. They will also pick up flavours from the spices and the fond of the beef in this step. Cook for about 4 minutes. 

Add the carrots and celery and cook for an additional 3 minutes or so. Add the garlic, rosemary and bay leaves  and continue to sautée for an additional 4-5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Place the brisket on top of the aromatic veggies, fattiest side up. Then place a tight fitting lid on your pot and place it in the middle of your preheated oven. If you don't have a lid you can improvise with metal foil. The idea is just to keep the steam inside the pot so it doesn't dry out. Let the brisket roast undisturbed for 4 hours. 

Here's what the brisket looks like after about 4 hours. It will have shrunken through the process of all the fat and connective tissue melting away. The bed of veggies will be saturated in all that grease. Their job of perfuming the meat are done and can be discarded (although if you have some crusty bread lying around you may want to treat yourself to a dip or two of that liquid). 

Remove the brisket and wrap it in metal foil. Leave it to rest for an additional 30-45 minutes. Do not skip this step as it is crucial in retaining all of the meat's juices. You have come so far, but just a little more patience is required. The rewards are well worth it. 

After the resting process has completed, remove from the foil and slice her up! 

It's very important to slice against the grain of the meat, otherwise it will all fall apart on you. So you want to cut the brisket in the opposite direction which the fibres of the meat are running. You can slice is thick or thin as you want but I find the thickness of about a pencil works best. The sign of a properly executed brisket is that with very little effort the natural fibres of the meat will kinda separate, opening little holes and cracks in the meat like so... 

Yum! Yum! Yum! The low and slow technique leaves the meat so tender, juicy and melt-in-your-mouth. The fat cap that was left on the top side fell right off so it was very easily removed and discarded. After cooking it's job is technically done. I shared some with my neighbours and used the rest to make the most incredible sandwiches at the office. Since brisket is so tender it doesn't need many condiments. Plain ol' mustard is good enough. I added a slice of cheddar and some dill pickle as well. By adding cheese I think it's no longer kosher, so forgive my impartiality. It was so good! lol 

You guys have gotta try this! It's very easy and inexpensive if you measure it in how many meals you get out of a flat cut. The hardest part of this whole process is just the patience. It will make you home smell so good as it cooks too. Brisket makes not just a great Hanukkah feast, but a nice Sunday roast dinner. Especially with these colder nights approaching. So cozy and comforting. 

I love brisket with mustard. It's the most popular condiment with it. I once watched a video online of Gordon Ramsay preparing a slow roasted brisket and he mentioned how he likes his with piccalilli. I've never tried it but I bet it would be good. If you're not familiar, piccalilli is an English relish of tangy pickled veggies and spices. It usually has mustard in it anyway. lol

I hope you enjoy your home cooked brisket. Good luck! To all my Jewish readers, I wish you and your families all a very happy Hanukkah this year. 


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