Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sharing a favorite brisket recipe

I have to go back quite a few years to remember the first time I had this recipe.

It was the early 1990s, and my sister was visiting from Maryland. We were at our parents’ house, and Susan was cooking dinner for us.

She made brisket — something I had never had.

The recipe was one shared by her new mother-in-law, Elaine Hoffman, and my husband and I thought the tender beef with the rich orange gravy was delicious both the first night we had it and next day in sandwiches.

Beef brisket, not to be confused with the very different corned beef brisket, is often cooked outdoors in a smoker. There are also many brisket recipes that simmer all day in a slow cooker, and I plan on trying one of those very soon. But Elaine’s traditional Jewish recipe is braised — first browned then simmered for at least two hours to tenderize this rather tough piece of beef.

For some reason, I was intimidated by this recipe, and it stayed inside a cookbook my sister assembled for me for two decades before I tried it.

First, I had to get over the cost of the brisket. Briskets are not small at my grocery store, so the cost can be hefty. The first two times I made this recipe, I spent more than $30 for my roughly 6-pound piece of boneless beef; brisket is available in smaller pieces in some stores. Last week, brisket was on sale at my grocery store, and the one I got cost just under $25. That’s certainly more than I usually pay for a main course piece of meat, but, keep in mind, I made nine servings from this brisket for very hungry adults. And I don’t make it often.

I was also intimidated by the process, especially the step that involves a blender to make the delicious gravy. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Here’s the short answer on how to make Elaine’s brisket.

After cooking the onions and garlic in oil, rub the brisket with salt, pepper and paprika before browning on both sides in a hot skillet. I also pick up the beef with a fork and hold the sides against the bottom of the pan to sear those as well.

Then the beef, broth and plenty of carrots go into a Dutch oven or large pot with the onions and garlic to simmer until the beef is tender. This is when my house starts smelling like Sunday after-church lunch from my childhood. Although Mama didn’t cook brisket, she cooked plenty of beef roasts, and the wonderful aroma is similar.

Once the beef has cooked for two hours at least (don’t make a shortcut here) remove the beef from the pot and allow it to cool. While the meat cools, you can make the gravy. After removing some of the carrots to serve with the beef, add two cups of tomato sauce to the pan liquid and blend. The first few times I made this, I used my blender. But last week, I used my immersion blender, and it was so easy! Remember, the gravy is hot, so if you use the blender be very careful not to get burned when transferring the gravy, and hold a towel over the lid to contain any liquid that might come out. (I learned this the hard way.)

Slice the cooled meat against the grain (this is essential if you want a tender piece of beef) and arrange in a deep baking dish for serving. If you’re like me and get confused sometimes with the "against the grain” instructions, have the butcher show you how to cut or look for photos for instructions online. I’m proud to say I’ve done this right every time I’ve made this dish, cutting the roast on a diagonal.

Once the meat is all cut, pour the gravy over it, making sure all of the slices are covered. You might not use all the gravy. Then wrap in aluminum foil and refrigerate.

Elaine’s recipe recommends making the brisket a day in advance before cooking in the oven. I only refrigerated four or five hours the first time I made the brisket, but last week, I did refrigerate roughly 24 hours and was so happy to have dinner ready to go into the oven when my son came home for the weekend on Friday. I made mashed potatoes while the beef cooked.

This recipe has quickly become a favorite at my house. I am thankful that Elaine, who died last year, shared it with my sister, who passed it on to me. There’s nothing like a special family recipe.

Elaine's Brisket
  • Beef brisket (3 to 5 pounds)
  • 3 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt or about half that amount of table salt
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • Pepper to taste
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 3 carrots, sliced into large pieces
  • 1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
In a large pot, cook the onions in oil until soft, adding garlic towards the end.

Trim fat from brisket. Cut into two pieces if too large to braise. Rub the meat with the combined salt, pepper and paprika and brown on all sides in a frying pan. Put meat into pot with onions and garlic. Add broth and carrots. Simmer, covered, over low flame for 2 hours or until meat is tender, turning meat once during cooking.

Remove the meat and allow to get cool enough to handle. Slice on the bias, or across the grain, trimming remaining fat.

Arrange meat in a baking dish (the deeper the better).

Before making the gravy, take out some of the carrots to serve with the beef. Blend together the gravy, onions and remaining carrots with the tomato sauce. (Immersion blender works well for this.)

Cover meat and carrots with the gravy, making sure all of the meat is covered.

Preferably, refrigerate overnight before baking. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

If desired, parboil cut potatoes for 15 minutes and add to the meat and carrots for the final baking.

Elaine Hoffman

Notes: My brisket was a little larger than 5 pounds, and I did not alter the other ingredients. I cut some of the fat off before browning, but not very much because it’s very thick. I trimmed what was left as I sliced the beef. I used 2 to 3 cups of baby carrots and low-sodium beef broth. I have made the recipe several times. The first times I refrigerated several hours before baking; the last time I refrigerated overnight. I had excellent results both ways.

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