This Easter I wanted to take a break from our traditional family dinner of lamb or ham and try brisket. My friend and editor Nancy Ryan has been raving about her friend Lynn Shapiro’s brisket. “It’s so juicy! So tender! So flavorful! The best ever!” Enough already. I wanted to know why Lynn’s brisket was so good (perhaps the best ever). Lynn’s cookbook, Food, Family and Tradition: Hungarian Kosher Family Recipes and Remembrances, The Cherry Press, 2013, comes out this month, with a recipe for her father’s brisket, but not in time for Easter. So Nancy asked Lynn for her secret and this is it: she cooks a kosher brisket.
I did some research and I realized that koshering is a form of dry brining with salt (I often brine chicken or pork by soaking it in a water solution of salt and sugar). I decided to kosher my own brisket and when I gave my recipe the pre-holiday test it turned out: so juicy, so tender, so flavorful, the best brisket I have ever made.
Here are some tips: To kosher the brisket, first rinse it under cold running water to remove all visible blood. Pat it dry; rub on both sides with coarse kosher or sea salt, enough to evenly distribute but not enough to become a thick paste. Set the salt-rubbed brisket on a rack over a large dish to catch drippings. Let rest for 2 hours. Rinse well under cold water, pat dry and you are ready to cook. I recommend the slow heat of a large crockpot, one with a 6 ½ to 7-quart capacity.
Brisket is one of the nine primal cuts of beef, the lower chest of the beef. It has a cap of fat and lots of connective tissue, which requires long, slow cooking to become tender.
Now here’s the rub: The brisket is already salted, so using salted beef or vegetable broth is overkill. To solve the problem of a salt-free broth I simply sliced 3 pounds of yellow onions and ½ head of green celery and layered it in the slow cooker with the brisket in between. The vegetables make their own fragrant, salt free broth. If you have a large brisket and the vegetables are mounding on top, simply weight the lid with 28-ounce cans of tomatoes and as the vegetables cook they will wilt.
When the brisket is cooked, remove it using two large spatulas inserted underneath and discard any vegetables that cling. Strain the vegetable broth into a large container through a fine-mesh sieve. Discard the vegetables (they have done their job) and defat the broth using a handy invention, the grease separator (see photo). Even with the broth strained of fat you will find, once you refrigerate leftover brisket in its defatted broth, additional fat will accumulate that can be easily removed and discarded.
I serve this brisket with barbecue sauce, roasted potatoes and carrots, sautéed mushrooms and green vegetables. But because the flavor is pure beef you can also serve it with mustard and horseradish, cabbage and beets, and boiled parleyed potatoes. The variations are endless.
- 1 (7-pound) beef brisket
- Coarse kosher or sea salt, as needed (about ½ cup)
- 3 pounds of yellow onions, sliced
- ½ stalk of celery, ribs trimmed to fit
- 6 to 8 peeled garlic cloves
- Rinse the brisket under cold water to remove any visible blood. Pat dry. Rub coarse salt over top and bottom. Set brisket on a rack over a large baking dish and let rest.
- After 2 hours, rinse the brisket well under cold water and pat dry.
- Place half the onions, celery and garlic in the bottom of a large capacity slow cooker (at least 6 ½ quarts) Add the brisket. Cover with the remaining onions, celery and garlic. Cover with the lid, weighting if necessary with 28-ounce cans of tomatoes. (As the vegetables cook they will decrease in size.)
- Cook on low for 10 hours.
- Using 2 large spatulas, remove the brisket, discarding any vegetables clinging to it.
- Strain the vegetables and juices in the slow cooker through a fine mesh sieve into a large container.. Discard vegetables. Pour broth into a fat separator, wait until fat rises to the surface, and then drain the fat-free broth into the slow cooker. Discard any fat that remains. Repeat until all broth has been defatted. Replace brisket in slow cooker in broth; turn to warm, until ready to slice and serve.
- Serve sliced with barbecue sauce, roasted carrots and potatoes, blanched green vegetables such as green beans and broccoli.
- Refrigerate any leftover brisket in broth. Before slicing for sandwiches or leftovers, remove and discard any solid fat that has collected.
Variations: Substitute horseradish and mustard for barbecue sauce. Substitute roasted beets for carrots and parleyed potatoes for roasted potatoes.
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