Have you ever wondered why brisket is considered a Jewish cut of meat? It comes from the kosher dietary laws that strictly dictate which animals — and for that matter, which specific parts of an animal — can be eaten. In the case of beef, only the forequarters can be consumed, which includes the breast of beef, commonly called brisket. Brisket of beef can be braised, barbecued or brined (corned beef).
For most Jewish holidays, braised brisket is served. That may be the only thing cooks agree on. Braising, yes, but with what ingredients and tools is a different matter. I prefer the first cut — not the point cut — because it is leaner. I like to use an electric knife for thinly slicing the brisket, while others insist on a serrated knife for thick slices. Sometimes the brisket will be sweetened with dried fruit, cranberry sauce and even ketchup, while other renditions are savory with just a touch of sweetness with onions and garlic.
This recipe is really a cross between my mom’s brisket and the best pot roast you’ll ever taste. Inspired by Nach Waxman’s Brisket from The New Basics Cookbook, this comforting potted beef braises slowly atop an onion, leek and beer compote, heightened with the addition of tomato paste and whole braised garlic cloves. The tomato paste really adds an extra punch of flavor. Make sure to pick a flavorful lager, but watch out for excess bitterness. For harried home cooks, braised brisket is easy to put together — a definite plus since there are many dishes to prepare for this holiday. And the brisket actually tastes better if it is made a day or two in advance.
The secret to this recipe is the slow cooking process that keeps the meat from shrinking. The onion compote encourages the beef to stay moist and tender. Cutting the brisket halfway through the cooking process allows each slice of meat to be evenly flavored with the sauce. It also makes serving this dish a snap. I like to serve this with crispy roast potatoes or mashed potatoes and sautéed green beans. For Passover, serve a Kosher for Passover Cabernet or Merlot.
Braised Brisket of Beef With Onions and Garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 (5-pound) first-cut brisket
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 medium onions, thinly sliced
4 medium leeks, white and light green part only, cleaned and thinly sliced
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
16 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup lager beer
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, for garnish
In a very large heavy, deep ovenproof casserole, heat 2 tablespoons oil on medium-high heat. Dry the brisket well. Season the brisket with salt and pepper on both sides, and brown the brisket, about 4 minutes per side. (A nice browning will assure that the sauce is deep brown in color and has rich flavor.) Remove the brisket to a large dish and reserve.
Add the remaining oil to the pan on medium heat and saute the onions and leeks until a rich, golden-brown color, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan as the onions cook, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the carrots and garlic, and cook another 2 minutes. Add the beer and combine with the onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Return the brisket on top of the onion mixture in the casserole and spread the tomato paste over the brisket evenly. Cover and braise for 1 1/2 hours.
Remove the brisket to a carving board and slice the meat against the grain, and then place the meat back into the casserole in overlapping slices. Continue cooking the brisket another 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until very tender when pierced with a fork. To serve, place the brisket in a serving dish with edges to catch the sauce. Spoon over the sauce, garnish with parsley, and serve immediately.
Advance preparation: May be prepared up to three days ahead, covered and refrigerated. To serve, bring the brisket to room temperature and reheat in a 350-degree oven for 1/2 hour before serving.
Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including Seriously Simple Holidays, and is also a James Beard award-winning radio-show host. Contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.