Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Oniony Brisket

My friend Laura was here last week, and she said, "I like that your blog is sort of vegetarian, even though it isn't."  And so I cooked meat.  There is another picture of meat here (nearly the same as above) but no process pics of raw meat, so read on at your own risk.

We were pawing through the food list for the buying club a few weeks ago, and looking at meat and I was like, "Oh, I could order a brisket."

I've never ordered a brisket before.   I've never cooked a brisket before.  The closest I've come to such a thing was several years ago, at a friend's mom's house for "Latkefest," which is in the fall and thus likely coincides with a holiday, eating her brisket and then repeating the recipe over and again out loud to prove I had learned it.  When I got back home, all I could remember was to use an onion soup mix packet.  So years passed.

Brisket is something I associate with Jewish holidays, so it's not something I grew up with, but it's something I grew up near.   When my family was eating a ham, my friends' families were eating brisket.  (My friends won on that one, and the bar/bat mitzvahs).  Now, my only exposure to brisket is at my annual office Hanukkah party.

So we're going through the buying club list and I get all excited about brisket, and not knowing how to cook it or what it is, I order it.  Also, I order overpriced frozen corn from a local farm.

I had two weeks from that moment to delivery, so I did some reading.  Brisket is tough, so you cook it low and slow.  I need to tell you that the entire time I was thinking about how to cook this, plus the time I was cooking this, plus the time we were eating this, I've had this song stuck in my head.   The other thing I learned in all my reading, is that you cook it in wet. And you fridge it overnight.  Most of this I learned from the many brisket threads on Chowhound.

I wasn't about to use a soup packet, but I wanted to re-create, to the best of my memory, my friend's mom's recipe, or at least the outcome.  Very tender, fall-off-the-fork meat with rich and oniony flavor.

So the food shows up and I open up my paper bag full of meat, and see something that I wouldn't have understood if it weren't for all that reading I did.  This isn't "a full brisket," as that's some huge flat piece of meat with a layer of fat on one side.  This is some adulterated thing that most of us have access to in our grocery stores.  No pics, but it was like a big, marbly steak, but didn't have a distinct layer of fat.

Mine was frozen when I started.  I turned the oven to 200 and sliced up a very large onion.  I put the onion on the bottom of my dutch oven.  It took three tries to find a vessel large enough to cook the thing in.  I've made bigger roasts, but this thing was long and flat.  My pyrex baking dish isn't tall enough, and the smaller of my two dutch ovens wasn't long enough.  I jammed it into the bigger one.

But first, before I jammed it in, I coated it in flavor.  Black pepper, salt, onion powder and garlic powder.  I know there are people out there who are completely opposed to onion powder and garlic powder.  I'm not saying they replace real onion and garlic, but they really do have an important role.  I'm in full support of the powders.  Anyhow, I coated it in spices, still frozen, and tossed it into the dutch oven on a bed of onions.  200 degrees for an hour and half.

When I went to visit, it had defrosted, and I poured in enough beef stock and water to almost cover it.  The liquid came most of the way up the sides of the meat.

I left it in the oven for another three hours, poking at it and basting it every hour or so.  

After four and a half hours, it was very tender.  I pulled it out of the cooking liquid and let it cool on a cutting board.  Then I simmered the liquid down to reduce a bit.

Once the meat was cool, I sliced it - against the grain - and trimmed off a good bit of the fat.  I put the sliced meat back in the liqiuid, and once that all cooled, back in the fridge, overnight.

The next night, I opened the dutch oven, which took over most of my fridge, and skimmed off the fat.  This was much like the beef stock process, and a whole new adventure in cooking beef.  I lost some onions in this process.

I froze most of it in meal-sizes, and put two servings, plus a good bit of the liquid and onions in a small dish in the oven on 200.

This is where it became super-evident that we're just not a meat-and-potatoes household.  I asked Sous Chef Brian to paw through the veggie freezer for a side veg, and he was like, "Spaghetti squash?"  And I was like, "No." And he was like, "Artichoke hearts?" And I was like, "No, don't we have corn, or green beans or some standard-ass vegetable?"

And so he found the corn.  I freeze corn in the summer, but somehow, buying the corn my local farmer froze this summer is very expensive.  Never again.  It was good, but really, next year I'll just be better about stockpiling sweet corn while it's cheap.

I had some non-food potato rolls in the freezer from a recent party (Sous Chef Brian and I have an on-going debate... I think I can use grocery store foods I wouldn't normally buy when I'm serving 30 people, and he thinks I should cook like I cook.  It would take me weeks to cook that much food from scratch.  I have limits.)

Anyhow, about 30 minutes in the oven at 200 and it warmed back up and it was oniony and peppery and tender and awesome.  After we ate, I said to Sous Chef Brian, "I don't want this to be how we eat, but I really enjoyed that."  And that's the reality.  We're not a brisket household, but damn is this brisket good. 

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