During the long New England winter, we need comfort on our dinner plates even more than usual. When snow is piling up outside and the temperatures are bitterly cold, we turn to our favorite rustic recipes to warm us up from the inside out. If that recipe involves braising something in the oven all afternoon, all the better. I know that the warmth and delicious aroma emanating from the oven will help us to endure the cold and hold on to the knowledge that spring will eventually arrive.
Like so many cooking methods that have stood the test of time, braising is rustic and simple. It requires no fancy equipment, only a heavy pot with a lid that can be moved from the stovetop to the oven. Braising doesn’t involve a lot of hands on time, hours of paying careful attention to the recipe. Instead, it brilliantly combines two simple tasks: searing a cut of meat and then allowing that meat to cook slowly in a covered pan until it is tender and infused with flavor.
My culinary idol Julia Child didn’t need many words to explain braising in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She simply defines it as “To brown foods in fat, then cook them in a covered casserole with a small amount of liquid.” I couldn’t possibly explain it any more perfectly or succinctly. Yes, it really is that simple.
Brisket is a cut of meat perfect suited for braising. Brisket can be tough if it is hurried, if it isn’t cooked in a way that encourages that sinewy muscle to magically transform into a tender piece of meat and gelatinous broth. Luckily, braising does just that.
Braising has become a Sunday ritual in the farmhouse kitchen during the colder months of the year. In New England, that means more than half of our calendar year. This week is the first week of spring. It’s also a week where we watched as snow squalls dropped a fresh layer on the farm’s landscape not once but twice.
As soon as the first snowstorm arrived, we started discussing what to braise for Sunday dinner. We can’t control the weather, cannot convince Mother Nature that spring is welcome here and we’ve seen enough wintry snow for a while. We can look forward to a Sunday afternoon with a brisket braising in the oven all afternoon and the resulting meals for the week.
We’ve been braising for years, but had never found a brisket recipe that left us craving more. Then David Lebovitz dropped one right in my newsfeed that looked so promising that we made immediate plans to give it a try. The recipe was made famous by Nach Waxman, the owner of Kitchen Arts & Letters, a fabulous culinary book shop in New York City. Since then, it has appeared in several cookbooks.
The first time we made the recipe, I was skeptical. It seemed too simple to be anything but ordinary. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The results were so delicious that we have since made our own version countless times this winter. Every single time, I am taken by just how delicious it is, how much flavor each bite contains. Some recipes are keepers, and this is surely one of them, a foundational recipe to have on hand to make time and time again.
Over the winter, I’ve adjusted the quantities and timing a bit from the original recipe. After testing my version many times, we’ve agreed that our version is just to our liking. It’s delicious and tender every time. The leftovers are even better 24 or 48 hours later. We enjoy them on sandwiches spread with a bit of homemade horseradish sauce or tarragon mayonnaise. I also love to shred a bit of the leftover brisket and serve it with caramelized fennel over a bed of creamy, cheesy grits. Just writing about it makes my mouth water. One bite of this brisket and you’ll understand why at our farmhouse, Sundays are for braising.
- 4-6 pounds beef brisket
- kosher or sea salt
- 1-2 Tablespoons All-purpose flour
- 1 Tablespoon lard
- 2 pounds thinly sliced onions (approximately 6-8 medium onions)
- 4 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
- 4 large carrots, peeled and diced
- salt and pepper
- Pat the brisket dry with a paper towel. Salt liberally. Sprinkle the brisket with the flour, using as much as is necessary to dust the entire surface.
- Prepare the onions, garlic, and carrots. They will be used in separate steps, so keep the garlic and carrots separate from the onions.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place a large oven safe pot or roasting pan with a lid over medium-high heat. I like to use my cast iron or enameled cast iron Dutch oven, but any heavy pot with a lid that is safe to move from stovetop to oven will do the job.
- Add the lard to the warm pan, swirling to coat the bottom evenly. Add the brisket to the pan and sear on both sides. Five minutes per side should be enough to sear and lightly brown the brisket. Remove the brisket to a large plate or dish to rest as you caramelize the onions.
- Lower the heat to medium and add the onions to the pan. Season with a salt and black pepper and stir to coat them with the fat in the pan. Cook them for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent them from sticking. They should soften and become translucent before taking on the golden brown color of caramelized onions. If they stick to the pan, you can add a bit more lard or a little water to the pan.
- Turn off the heat. Spread the onions evenly in the bottom of the pan to create a bed for the brisket. Add the brisket back to the pan along with any juices that have collected as it rested. Spread the tomato paste evenly on the top surface of the brisket. Add the garlic and carrots to the top of the brisket, allowing any excess to fall to the bed of onions below. Season with salt and pepper. Place the lid on your pan and transfer to the warm oven. Cook for 90 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the oven. Remove the lid and allow the brisket to rest for 10 minutes. Transfer the brisket to a large cutting board or large platter. Slicing against the grain, portion the brisket into ½ inch slices. Transfer the slices back to the braising pot, nestling them into the onions and overlapping them if necessary to fit. Replace the lid and transfer back to the oven to braise for another 90 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the oven. Allow the brisket to rest for 10 minutes before serving. The pot will remain hot, keeping the brisket and onions warm while allowing the meat to rest. Serve the brisket, spooning onions, carrots, and garlic from the pan over each serving. I often serve this brisket with a homemade horseradish sauce made by stirring together sour cream and horseradish to our liking and seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper.
- Any leftover brisket and vegetables can be stored in the refrigerator. The flavor will improve overnight, making for delicious leftovers the next day. Warming the leftovers in the vegetables and sauce will prevent the brisket from drying out as it is reheated.