Easy Onion-Braised Brisket

photo taken by Sandor Weisz, January 9, 2010, CC licensing

Recipe taken from Jayne's book: "Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lovers Treasury of Classics and Improvisations"

Yield: About 8 servings

A featured player in countless holiday productions throughout the Diaspora, sautéed onion takes on multiple roles here, providing not only the wonderfully savory flavor, but also all the aromatic moisture in which the brisket gently braises, and even the body for the simple, flour-free gravy.

5 tablespoons mild olive oil
A first- or second-cut beef brisket (about 5 pounds), trimmed of excess fat, wiped with a damp paper towel, and patted dry

6 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced (about 8 cups)
1/4 cup mild vinegar (moderately priced sherry or balsamic are good choices)

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven or heavy flameproof casserole large enough to accommodate the meat in one layer (see Cook's Note). Add the brisket, and brown it well to caramelize the meat on all sides, about 10 minutes in all. Don't allow it to develop a hard, dark crust, which would make the meat tough or bitter. Transfer the brisket to a platter, fat-side down.
Sprinkle the garlic cloves with enough salt and pepper to season the brisket, then mash the seasoned garlic to a paste. Spread half of the garlic paste over the top (nonfat side) of the brisket, and set the meat aside.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Pour off all the remaining fat in the pan, and add the remaining 2 tablespoons fresh oil. Add about half the onions, salt and pepper them generously, and sauté over medium-high heat, lifting and tossing them occasionally, until they have greatly reduced in volume and turned light golden. Stir in the remaining onions. After all the onions have softened, stir less frequently so they can build up the lovely dark fond that helps them brown more quickly. When all the onions are burnished a rich gold, add 3 1/2 tablespoons vinegar. Increase the heat to high, and cook, scraping up all the caramelized brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, for 3 to 4 minutes, until all the liquid is evaporated.
Place the brisket on the bed of onions, fat side up. Spread the remaining garlic paste over the top (fat side) of the brisket.
Spoon about half of the onions all over the top and sides of the brisket, so that the meat is sandwiched between layers of onion. Cover tightly first with foil, then with the lid.

Braise the brisket in the oven, basting with the pan juices and turning the meat every 30 minutes or so (be sure to re-cover the pan tightly), until the meat is fork tender, 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Let the meat rest in the pan sauce for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight, covered, in the refrigerator.

When you are ready to serve the brisket, scrape off any congealed fat from the surface if you have refrigerated the dish. Transfer the cold meat to a cutting board, and slice the meat thinly across the grain at a slight diagonal.
Prepare the gravy: strain the braising mixture, reserving the onion-garlic mixture. Skim and discard as much fat as possible from the liquid. Puree the defatted liquid, together with about half the reserved onion-garlic mixture and the remaining 1/2 tablespoon vinegar, in a food processor or blender. Transfer the pureed mixture to the cleaned pan. Add the remaining onion-garlic mixture and boil over high heat for about 5 minutes to concentrate the gravy and marry the flavors. Reduce the heat, add the meat, and reheat it slowly in the gravy until piping hot. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Arrange the sliced brisket on a serving platter. Spoon some of the hot sauce all over the meat and pass the rest in a separate sauce boat.
Cook's Note: If you don't have a pan large enough, you can cut the brisket in two and sauté it in batches. (The meat will shrink as it cooks, so that you will be able to fit it in one layer later.) Or sear the meat under the broiler: Cover the broiler pan with foil to minimize cleanup. Place brisket, fat-side up, under a preheated broiler, and broil for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, or until nicely browned. Move the meat around as needed, so that it sears evenly.

Sephardic or Askhenazi