Brisket is one of those warm and wonderful classic dishes of winter — soft, supple with crispy bits around the edges. Even in temperate Santa Barbara my family loves the cozy comfort of this dinner. Cooking low and slow means it’s great for those Sundays at home, usually our day to relax and prep for the week ahead.
With the brisket bubbling away in the oven the house smells amazing — which is a nice contrast to my usual Sunday task of cleaning out the backpacks, let’s just say brisket smells way better than the fifth grade.
Brisket can be tricky; it took some trial, error and tough chewing for me to figure it out. However, I was determined to shoot par on this one . Here are a couple of tips I’ve learned along the way to make your brisket beautiful.
Sear and sear well. To properly sear your meat you need a screaming hot pan. Be patient and wait for your pan to heat up properly. When you add the oil it should dance around like a James Brown around a hot tub. This step will ensure that your sear a wonderful caramel covering to seal in flavor and moisture.
When you go to put your brisket in the oven cover it twice. This is a tip I gleaned from watching Julie Robles cook in my kitchen — it’s one of those professional chef tricks that makes all the difference to a home cook. Secure foil tightly around the perimeter of the pan and then place the lid on top. This little step keeps the steam inside the pan, making for some juicy meat. Also, when you flip the meat halfway through the cooking time and you go to secure the foil again, be sure to use oven mitts and not your hands to pat the foil back into place. I learned that one the hard way.
Yes, this does take all day to cook but with a simple recipe like the one below, it’s easy and so satisfying. My family even loves the leftovers, which is usually a tough sell over here. I add some fresh vegetables to the braising liquid near the end and the entire meal is done in one pan come dinnertime.
Brisket, 3.5 lbs
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup sherry
4 cups stock (dealers choice — chicken, beef, veggie), you might need to add a little extra after cooking
2 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
1 large onion, large dice
3 carrots, large dice
3 celery stalks, large dice
3 cloves of garlic, chopped in half
1-2 chile de arbol or 1/2 tsp red chile flakes
Fresh parsley leaves
Small carrots (whole), small head of cauliflower, pearl onions or basically any vegetables you have in the crisper that need to be used up.
Preheat oven 350.
Season meat well on both sides with salt and pepper — go for it, don’t be skimpy with that S & P. Place a Dutch oven (set aside the lid for now) on medium-high heat and add the oil. When the oil starts to dance around the pan add meat fat side down and sear until dark golden brown. Flip to other side and repeat. Sear any thick sides, too. Remove meat to a platter and add veggies and sherry to the pan.
Sauté vegetables for 3-5 minutes until all of the brown bits are released from the pan and the sherry has been reduced in half. Pour in four cups of stock and the beef, fat side down. You won’t be able to cover the entire piece of meat; there will be about 1- inch of beef exposed. Cover pan well with foil, followed by the lid. Place in a 350 oven for 2 hours. After two hours flip the meat, secure more foil followed by the lid (remember your mitts!). Return the braising meat to the oven. Check meat for tenderness after another 1 1/2 hours of cooking.
Remove the meat from the pan and pull out any stems leftover from the herbs, chile, and bay leaves. With your hand held immersion blender puree the cooked veggies with the juices (if you don’t have you can do this step in a blender). If it seems to thick add more stock until you get your desired consistency.
Taste for seasoning and then add those extra veggies — cleaned carrots, pearl onions, and cauliflower — to the pan and nestle the beef back in, fat side up. Cover with the lid and cook 15 minutes more. Remove from the oven. Put the broiler on and while that heats up, pour the veggies and sauce onto a large serving platter. Place the meat back in the oven under the broiler (fat side up) and keep an eye on it until it gets nice and caramelized, about 3 minutes. Slice and serve on top of the veggies finishing with a sprinkle of fresh parsley.