RECIPES: Brisket: Any-Time Comfort Food—Perfect for Passover; And You Can Shred It for BBQ!

Brisket is the cut of meat at the shoulder of a cow, above the shank. It’s tough due to the pectoral muscles, so it needs lengthy, slow cooking, to break down the connective tissues. It’s also capped by fat, so the long cooking turns the connective tissue into glutinous collagen, rendering the meat toothsome.

Rubbing the brisket with a spice rub, or marinating it and slow roasting the meat indirectly over hardwood results in smoky Western brisket barbecue, while in New England, the meat is boiled with spices to make the traditional boiled dinner. Brisket is often made in a slow cooker. Brined and/or pickled brisket results in corned beef or pastrami. There are two cuts. The first or “flat cut” is leaner, while the  second or “triangular cut” is much thicker and fattier. Since it’s boneless, it slices beautifully. However, there’s one word to the wise: brisket shrinks 50 percent while cooking.

The flat cut of brisket is most popular in traditional Jewish cooking for Rosh Hashanah and Passover, partly because it comes from the front of the cow, satisfying the requirements for kashrut (kosher). It’s also an economical cut, perfect for braising the day before a holiday,  or cooked early in the day so it’s ready to eat later. It’s actually at its best refrigerated overnight, so the flavors meld, the meat firms up, which makes it’s easy to slice cold. Then reheat it  the gravy and serve with finesse on a platter simply garnish with parsley or chopped chives.

A table set up for Passover.

A table set up for Passover.

There are two very simple preparations for brisket: braise the meat for several hours in a covered roasting pan, or use a large electric roaster, similar to a crock pot. These methods make sense because first-cut brisket  is a large, flat slice of meat that needs an ample flat cooking surface with enough depth for the water required to convert the collagen to gelatin, thus tenderizing the muscular meat. It’s a better cut for “dinner service” because it’s less fatty,  neater and a bit more formal than the triangular cut.

If you add extra broth and cook the brisket until it falls apart, you can blend your own barbecue spices into the broth before cooking, shred the meat, and serve it up on a Kaiser roll with a side of cole slaw!

The first recipe is my mother’s, probably circa 1934, when my dad married his nineteen-year-old  bride. The second recipe is different, but just as simple. Either can be adapted for oven or electric roaster/crock pot. Both are appropriate for the unseasoned bride- or the well-seasoned expert who pours a glass of red for the mouth and one for the pot!

Roasting Pan in the Oven Brisket Recipe

This recipe serves 12 people. You need an eight pound  first-cut slab or two pieces as large as possible. Set oven to 325 degrees.

Make slits in both sides of the meat; insert slices of a peeled head of garlic in the pockets. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Rub in a substantial amount of brown sugar. In the same top-of-stove-to-oven pan you’re going to transfer to the oven, sear the meat on both sides in a little oil with two large halved and sliced onions, until the meat is brown and the onions are caramelized. Spoon most of the onions over the meat,with the fatty side up. Sprinkle the brisket with a pouch of onion soup mix. Add water halfway up the piece of meat. Spread ketchup over the top surface of the brisket.  (If you want a spicier gravy, use chili ketchup.) Add a bay leaf or two to the liquid, and more garlic, if desired. Seal tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Roast a minimum of 2-3 hours, depending upon the size of the  meat. (Test after two hours and thereafter until the meat is done. Add a little water if necessary. The beef should be firm but tender, and the water reduced, but not cooked away.) Remove the meat to a platter to rest 15-20 minutes, or refrigerate, covered, overnight. Place the pan on a medium burner; add beef broth or water to deglaze the pan. Use a spatula to loosen all the good bits to make gravy. (A little cornstarch stirred into cold water and stirred in slowly to thicken the gravy is optional.) Pour into a gravy boat or heatproof pitcher and serve with the brisket.

To reheat: Slice the brisket on a slight slant. Return to pan with the gravy. Seal tightly with heavy foil and heat in a 325F oven until hot, but be careful not to let it dry out. Using a large metal spatula, transfer to a platter, garnish with chopped chives or parsley, and serve.

Brisket In A Slow-Cooker Recipe

This recipe serves 6.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 halved and sliced large onions
4 pounds beef brisket
Coarse salt and black pepper
6-8 cloves of chopped garlic
2 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Add olive oil to a heavy saute pan over medium heat. Add onions, lower the heat and caramelize stirring often, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, pat the meat dry and season well with salt and pepper. Over medium-high heat, sear the beef on both sides, until a good crust forms. Remove and place flat in a slow cooker insert, fatty side up.

Sprinkle the beef with the garlic and pile the caramelized onions on top. Mix the liquid ingredients and pour over the meat.

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, until the brisket is very tender. Reset the cooker to warm and let the meat rest for at least 20 minutes before serving with the onions and juices. Or, cool and refrigerate overnight.

To reheat, slice the brisket and place the brisket and all the juices in a flat pan, cover tightly with heavy-duty foil, and warm in the oven at 300 degree for about 1 hour, or just until hot. Do not overheat or let it dry out! Remove the brisket to a hot platter, garnish, and serve.

Thanks to Wholy Smoked Briskets for the carving tutorial!