Recipe for truly succulent, traditional Jewish brisket?
February 16, 2009 7:01 PM   Subscribe

How do you make truly tender, succulent Jewish-style brisket?

I've had a craving for brisket-like-my-grandmother-used-to-make for about a year now. I finally got the meat and my mother's recipe and cooked it today. The taste is great and the thin end of the meat turned out close to what I was hoping for; the thick end is cooked through but not moist and falling apart like brisket in my world should be, and when I stick a fork in it gives a lot of resistance. I don't know if I over- or undercooked it. I should mention that my "dutch oven" (really a stockpot) was too narrow so I used a Calphalon deep covered 13" nonstick skillet instead--maybe a big mistake? I am such a brisket novice.

Below is a quick recap of how I cooked it. I've looked up a ton of recipes but each one is slightly different, and life's too short to try every one. My question is this: who has a foolproof (mostly) recipe for truly tender, traditional Jewish brisket!? And just as important, how do you know how long to cook it and when it's done? (Can you overcook a brisket, as long as there's still liquid in the pan?)

Recipe I used for half a first-cut brisket, about 3 pounds, fat trimmed:
Preheat oven to 350. Place thickly sliced onions, carrots, and a couple chopped garlic cloves in bottom of Dutch oven. Rub ketchup, ground pepper, paprika, and one envelope onion soup mix on all surfaces of brisket. Add liquid to 3/4 inches deep (I used 1.5 cans low-sodium beef broth; most of liquid was absorbed by the end of cooking). Place chunks of potato around meat. Cover tightly and roast for 2.5 hours. Baste two or three times during cooking. Remove from heat, cool meat, and slice across the grain.

Help! And thank you!
posted by roxie110 to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I would do the same recipe, but in a crockpot on low for about 9 hours. I've yet to meet a meat that wasn't falling apart after that.
posted by youcancallmeal at 7:13 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, first you need to get out your "Warner-Bratzler" model BR549-II (If you have to ask.....).

Seriously, from the go-to chefs at Cook's Illustrated (from behind the firewall), here is the scientific answer to your question. Which is followed by a similar recipe to what you're looking for.

Source: Published January 1, 2005. From Cook's Illustrated.

What makes brisket a unique cut of meat? And how do I make sure it's tender?

Most cooked briskets are dry, but they are not tough. In contrast, if you cook a steak the way you cook a brisket (that is, until very well done), it will be dry and tough. What makes brisket a unique cut of meat?

To find out, we used a Warner-Bratzler meat shear, a device designed to measure tenderness in meat. It uses a motor to push a piece of meat across a dull blade while a simple scale measures the required force. We first cooked very tender meat (tenderloin) in a 3 1/2-hour braise until very well done. Tender when raw, the meat was, according to the meat shear, 188 percent—2.9 times—tougher after braising. Next we cooked the brisket, which, unlike the tenderloin, was tough to begin with. By the end of the first hour of braising time, the meat had become even tougher. But further cooking reversed this trend. When the brisket was ready to come out of the oven (after 3 1/2 hours of braising), it was 28 percent more tender than when raw. What was happening?

The muscle fibers in meat contract and tighten soon after cooking commences. When the muscle fibers contract, they expel moisture and the meat becomes tougher. As the internal temperature of the meat climbs, a second process begins that helps reverse this trend. A tough connective tissue, collagen, begins to melt, turning into soft gelatin. In some cuts of meat, most of the toughening of the muscle is counterbalanced by the conversion of collagen to gelatin. We could see this when we used the meat shear on the brisket. Early measurements showed large variations, and if we looked at the blade after getting a high reading, we almost invariably saw white material—the collagen-streaked along the side. Once the temperature of the meat passed 200 degrees, however, these streaks had disappeared, and the meat had not only softened but also become more uniform in texture.

Extended cooking destroys tender cuts with little collagen (like the tenderloin) as they steadily give up their juices and become drier and tougher. But extended cooking actually improves the texture of tough cuts with lots of sinuous collagen (like brisket). Yes, they lose juices and become dry, but they also become tender as the collagen melts. So if your brisket seems a little tough, put it back in the oven!

Recipe for Onion-Braised Beef Brisket:

Serves 6-8. Published January 1, 2005.

This recipe requires a few hours of unattended cooking. It also requires advance preparation. After cooking, the brisket must stand overnight in the braising liquid that later becomes the sauce; this helps to keep the brisket moist and flavorful. Defatting the sauce is essential. If the fat has congealed into a layer on top of the sauce, it can be easily removed while cold. Sometimes, however, fragments of solid fat are dispersed throughout the sauce; in this case, the sauce should be skimmed of fat after reheating. If you prefer a spicy sauce, increase the amount of cayenne to 1/4 teaspoon. You will need 18-inch-wide heavy-duty foil for this recipe. If you own an electric knife, it will make easy work of slicing the cold brisket. Good accompaniments to braised brisket include mashed potatoes and egg noodles. For a Passover menu, substitute matzoh meal or potato starch for the flour.

1 beef brisket , 4 to 5 pounds, flat cut preferred
Table salt and ground black pepper
vegetable oil
3 large onions (about 2 1/2 pounds), halved and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry red wine
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 teaspoons cider vinegar (to season sauce before serving)
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 300 degrees. Line 13 by 9-inch baking dish with two 24-inch-long sheets of 18-inch-wide heavy-duty foil, positioning sheets perpendicular to each other and allowing excess foil to extend beyond edges of pan. Pat brisket dry with paper towels. Place brisket fat side up on cutting board; using dinner fork, poke holes in meat through fat layer about 1 inch apart. Season both sides of brisket liberally with salt and pepper.

2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until oil just begins to smoke. Place brisket fat side up in skillet (brisket may climb up sides of skillet); weight brisket with heavy Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet and cook until well browned, about 7 minutes. Remove Dutch oven; using tongs, flip brisket and cook on second side without weight until well browned, about 7 minutes longer. Transfer brisket to platter.

3. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from pan (or, if brisket was lean, add enough oil to fat in skillet to equal 1 tablespoon); stir in onions, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute; add tomato paste and cook, stirring to combine, until paste darkens, about 2 minutes. Add paprika and cayenne and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Sprinkle flour over onions and cook, stirring constantly, until well combined, about 2 minutes. Add broth, wine, bay, and thyme, stirring to scrape up browned bits from pan; bring to simmer and simmer about 5 minutes to fully thicken.

4. Pour sauce and onions into foil-lined baking dish. Nestle brisket, fat side up, in sauce and onions. Fold foil extensions over and seal (do not tightly crimp foil because foil must later be opened to test for doneness). Place in oven and cook until fork can be inserted into and removed from center of brisket with no resistance, 3 1/2 to 4 hours (when testing for doneness, open foil with caution as contents will be steaming). Carefully open foil and let brisket cool at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Transfer brisket to large bowl; set mesh strainer over bowl and strain sauce over brisket. Discard bay and thyme from onions and transfer onions to small bowl. Cover both bowls with plastic wrap, cut vents in plastic with paring knife, and refrigerate overnight.

6. About 45 minutes before serving, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. While oven heats, transfer cold brisket to cutting board. Scrape off and discard any congealed fat from sauce, then transfer sauce to medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until warm, skimming any fat on surface with wide shallow spoon (you should have about 2 cups sauce without onions; if necessary, simmer sauce over medium-high heat until reduced to 2 cups). While sauce heats, use chef's or carving knife to slice brisket against grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices, trimming and discarding any excess fat, if desired; place slices in 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Stir reserved onions and vinegar into warmed sauce and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over brisket slices, cover baking dish with foil, and bake until heated through, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

To Make and Serve the Brisket on the Same Day
If you would like to make and serve the brisket on the same day, after removing the brisket from the oven in step 4, reseal the foil and let the brisket stand at room temperature for an hour. Then transfer the brisket to a cutting board and continue with the recipe to strain, defat, and reheat the sauce and slice the meat; because the brisket will still be hot, there will be no need to put it back into the oven once the reheated sauce is poured over it.
posted by webhund at 7:28 PM on February 16, 2009 [14 favorites]

Good gracious that huge post above is nonsense.

The secret ingredient is some white vinegar, I swear. A few good glugs on the meat before it goes in the oven. Then, low and slow cooking. If the liquid is boiling away turn it down. Yes, you can overcook a brisket, but that is if you cook it at too high for too long.

I never bother with onion soup mix and ketchup and yadayada. It is just brisket, carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, salt, pepper, vinegar, garlic, marjoram, and water. It is the recipe of my great grandmother, from Hungary. I am aware that it is different from the usual tomatoey stuff, but the consistency of the meat is the same. Also important is the letting the meat rest and the cutting across the grain thing. And, brisket is not brisket if it is not better the next day.
posted by Mizu at 8:08 PM on February 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

I thought the secret was brining. That was what my Grandpa taught me.
posted by batmonkey at 8:35 PM on February 16, 2009

You just didn't cook it long enough. I'd say you need at least another hour.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:12 PM on February 16, 2009

nth'ing cook it longer on low a temperature. I love brisket.
posted by snowjoe at 10:40 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

My mom always used ketchup, as mentioned above, but also about half a bottle of dark beer. I have no idea what that means to the scientists at Cook's Illustrated, but the results were fantastic. An amazing meal with the world's best sandwiches for days on end.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:42 PM on February 16, 2009

The Cooks Illustrated recipe is awesome. Use it.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:23 PM on February 16, 2009

One thing that my Grandmother did made a huge difference in the texture. She cooked it a day or two ahead of time, put it in the fridge and then she would reheat it, pretty much cooking it a second time. I think she would leave it in for a least an hour or so the second time.
posted by lee at 11:27 PM on February 16, 2009

Here's 2

One is old fashioned from my mom/grandmother

Lipton onion soup packet
Garlic salt
Cover tightly
Cook forever
Eat. Use the juice to make standard butter rue gravy

Hugely popular alternative from Emeril that we make now
posted by Lord_Pall at 1:46 AM on February 17, 2009

The secret is freezing. Yes there is vinegar, and beer, and OMG ketchup, and of course long slow cooking. After it is cooked you slice it and then freeze it in the cooking sauce. when you are ready to eat just heat and serve. I think the freezing physically breaks down the remaining tough portions of the meat.
posted by caddis at 4:45 AM on February 17, 2009

You didn't cook it long enough. The secret with brisket is the same as ribs: low, slow, long.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:48 AM on February 17, 2009

I suggest asking your grandmother or mom, if possible. It's one of those things that everyone's recipe is different and they know how to fix it. For instance, my grandmother makes an ass-kicking brisket, and she can fix what goes wrong. (I'd give you the recipe, but it's one of those secret recipes, along with her mondelbread - which you have to be blood related to someone in her family to get.)
posted by majikstreet at 2:08 PM on February 17, 2009

Response by poster: thanks for all the great tips thus far... i sliced it then put it in the fridge last night, and plan to reheat it in the gravy tonight for 30-40 mins, since the consensus is that the meat needed more cooking and is also better the second day ... i'll post a tenderness update.

in my obsessive online brisket research i found this very informative page about braising. i think next time i'll brown the meat in oil first, sautee onions, use more liquid, use lower temperature (it was mostly 350 but my oven's finicky and I had to keep turning it down), cook longer. i was worried about checking the meat too often because that would release the heat and moisture, but the link above is very clear about what "fork-tender" means...

re the lauded emeril recipe: seems very sweet! i prefer the savory, oniony kind. the Cook's Illustrated recipe above looks great, but i worry that the wine flavor might be strong... has anyone out there tried the My Mother's Brisket recipe from epicurious, or the New Basics cookbook recipe?
posted by roxie110 at 3:19 PM on February 17, 2009

I've made Jayne Cohen's Onion-Braised Brisket for parties twice in the past month and it got effusive rave reviews from about 100 of my guests.
posted by joshwa at 8:43 AM on January 7, 2010

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