Amongst all the food I eat every day, a few cooking firsts stick out to me. Buttery spaghetti with boiled potatoes was the first dish I made for my family. The first time I perfectly poached eggs were also when I was in college, working in a restaurant under the guidance of a crush. I was using an induction stove.
There’s also the story of my first exposure to “scraping the browned bits”. I was eight when I helped my mom prepare sweet and sour beef brisket for her Rosh Hashanah dinner. It was one of my first introductions to the messy and ugly steps (the blackened bananas. the bloody bones. the pasty roux. the browned bits) that make the most comforting meals.
Rosh Hashanah is when we eat sweet foods in the hope that it will bring us a sweet new year. Although the sour portion of the Brisket is often made with orange juice or vinegar, it may be there to offset the sweetness of honey or dried fruit. I was also told that it’s to balance the dark memories of the past with the promise of a sweeter future. Tender Brisket can also be served on major Jewish holidays, such as Passover. This holiday commemorates the Israelites’ escape and departure from Egypt.
Sweet and sour Brisket is unique in that each person and their grandmother have a different method of getting the same flavour. Some swear by vinegar and dates. Others use Welch’s grape jelly and powdered onions soup mix, while others prefer crushed tomatoes and brown sugar. All that simmering, scraping, and searing creates the same flavour. It tastes a bit like Carolina BBQ, but only Jewish. Even if you don’t eat it often, it’s a plate full of comfort food that’s ugly and heart-warming. This makes it perfect for any holiday or event when you need to feed a large crowd. Christmas! Hanukkah! Non-traditional Thanksgiving It’s impossible to go wrong.
Let’s now talk about how to cook Brisket to make it tender and delicious and not tough and chewy. The first thing to do is brown bits. What are they? And what do they mean? It used to be that you browned the meat before braising it to lock in moisture. However, this was scientifically incorrect.
Nevertheless, we continue to do it. Flavour! You can cook the Brisket with some onion in your Dutch oven, but fine will not be fine. The quality of your dish’s flavour will be greatly improved by searing the meat and caramelizing your onions before you put them in to simmer. This is a chemical reaction called Maillard browning. With onions, it’s due to caramelization. Searing meats such as Brisket does not lock in moisture. However, it can help to develop the beef’s flavour.
What are some key cooking tips for Brisket that go beyond browning the meat?
The Difference Is In The Details
These are my top tips for making a delicious brisket.
- A dry surface is essential for browning meat. This is why many recipes recommend patting the meat dry before searing. I prefer to dry the meat first with a paper towel to get the best results. Next, I season the meat with kosher salt and place it in the fridge for at least an hour, with a sheet of aluminium foil underneath. This will dry the meat and create a quick brine which will enhance its flavour. The salt will draw out the meat’s moisture and then absorb it back into the meat. This will ensure that your meat is evenly seasoned.
- Searing is done with a neutral oil that has a high smoke point. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to dry the meat and then add oil to the pan to sear it, the oil has many benefits. It conducts heat, acts as a buffer, and creates a hot, smooth surface that allows your meat to sear evenly. Olive oil will burn if it is not heated enough to sear. Instead, use neutral oil with a high smoke point, such as vegetable, peanut or grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, or refined coconut oil.
- Caramelizing onions requires patience, but it is worth it. Sweet alliums can be used to transform beef brisket. You can also add some baking soda to increase the pH of your onions if you are in a hurry. This will speed up the process. For evenly spreading heat over a longer period, I recommend using a combination of high smoke points, neutral oil, like the one I mentioned above, and unsalted butter for flavour.
One-pot chicken adobo is the best way to celebrate my heritage.
- Brisket is the traditional cut for this recipe. However, other hard-working cuts can be used. You can substitute Brisket with chuck eye, shank or bottom round if you don’t have Brisket. They taste and cook the same to be used as a substitute.
- Get your meat from a butcher. Although I am biased as a butcher, I believe it makes a huge difference to be able to communicate with a person about what you need. Ask them to cut the meat, tie it up and tell you where it came from. This will help you cook more confidently. You’ll likely leave with more cooking ideas than a shelf at the grocery store.
- Get grass-fed beef. It’s better for the animal, which is better for you. It also gives you a huge advantage in flavour. This is important if you still want to taste the meat in recipes with so many powerful ingredients.
- How to cook Now that you’ve procured your meat and properly seasoned it, it is time to let it rest for a few hours. The Dutch oven will cook the meat faster (about 3 hours) than slow cooking in a slow cooker, which can take 7-8 hours. However, it is up to you what method you prefer.
- Allow Brisket to rest before carving. It should rest for at least 15 minutes. For the best meat, allow it to rest for 20 minutes ( This is important when you want to lock in the moisture).
- After resting your meat, cut against the grain. Brisket is a tougher cut made of strong, long muscle strands. You increase the length and toughness of the muscle by cutting along the strands. If you cut against the grain, you’re reducing the muscle structure and tenderizing the meat. It can be difficult to identify the grain in cooked meat. Take a small section of your Brisket and place it on a cutting board if you are unsure. Sometimes, the grain on cooked Brisket is easier to see from the inside.