Yield: 8 generous servings
Whenever I am asked what is the best way to make a brisket, I am stumped. Sure, there are techniques I always rely on, as I've described in Brisket 101.
But beyond that, this iconic homey Jewish meat lends itself to so many variations. Sometimes I go traditional with a savory bubbe brisket, a straightforward, rustic dish requiring no advance preparations, like the Easy Onion-Braised Brisket. Other times--especially for big holiday dinners--I like to tinker a bit more. Here the brisket is studded first with slivers of garlic and seasoned with a rub, then set aside for a few hours to absorb the flavoring before a gentle braising in red wine.
For the Studding/Flavor Paste
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
A first- or second-cut beef brisket, 4 to 5 pounds, trimmed of excess fat, wiped with a damp paper towel, and patted dry
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups coarsely chopped onions
2 cups full-bodied dry red wine
1 or 2 canned whole plum tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
6 large garlic cloves, peeled
Three 3-inch fresh rosemary sprigs, plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped leaves
Four 4-inch fresh thyme sprigs, plus 1 teaspoon leaves
3 cups chicken stock, homemade or low-sodium purchased
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To stud the meat and make the flavor paste: cut 3 cloves garlic into thin lengthwise slivers and set the rest aside. Make a little slit in the fat side of the brisket with the point of a small, sharp knife. Insert a garlic sliver into the slit, using your fingers and the knife tip to push it in as far as possible. In the same way, insert the remaining slivers all over the top and bottom of the brisket, spacing them as evenly as you can. For the flavor paste: in a mortar and pestle, blender, or mini food processor, mash the remaining 3 garlic cloves, along with the smoked paprika, salt, and pepper to a coarse puree. Rub the paste all over the meat. Place it in a large, plastic resealable bag or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for a minimum of 2 hours or as long as overnight, so the flavorings can penetrate the meat.
Remove the meat from the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature. Scrape off the paste and pat the meat dry with paper towels.
Braise the meat: preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. In an enameled cast-iron casserole, Dutch oven, or flameproof roasting pan large enough to hold the brisket snugly, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the brisket, and brown well on both sides (this will take about 10 minutes in all). Sear to caramelize the meat, but don't let it develop a hard, brown crust, which might make the meat tough or bitter. Transfer the brisket to a platter and set aside.
Alternatively, you might find it easier to sear the meat under the broiler. Just cover the broiler pan well with foil to minimize cleanup. Preheat the broiler. Place the brisket under the broiler, fat side up, and broil for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, or until nicely browned. Move the meat around as necessary, so it sears evenly. Transfer the brisket to a platter and set aside.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the oil remaining in the pan (or add 1 tablespoon oil to a pan if you broiled the meat), and add the onions. Sauté over moderately high heat, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 cup of the wine, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Boil the mixture until the pan liquid is reduced to a glaze. Add the tomatoes, garlic, rosemary and thyme sprigs, chicken stock, and the remaining wine. Boil for a few minutes, then lower the heat to a simmer.
Salt and pepper the brisket to taste on both sides, and add it to the pan, fat side up. Spoon the vegetables and pan liquid all over the meat. Cover the pan tightly and place in oven.
Braise the meat, basting with the pan sauce and vegetables every half-hour, for 3 to 3 1/2 hours or more, until the meat is fork-tender.
Remove the pan from the oven and cool for 1 hour, then refrigerate, covered, overnight, in the braising liquid.
When ready to serve the meat: scrape off all the solid fat from the surface of the meat and braising liquid. Transfer the brisket to a platter and cut into thin slices across the grain at a slight diagonal.
Prepare the gravy: warm the braising liquid to room temperature. Remove thyme and rosemary sprigs and discard. In a food processor or a blender in batches, puree the pan solids with some of the braising liquid. Return this mixture to the pan and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. If the gravy is too thin, boil it down to desired consistency over high heat. Stir in the rosemary and thyme leaves.
Return the sliced brisket to the pan and reheat slowly, either on top of stove or in a 325 degree F oven, until heated through.
Arrange the meat on a serving platter with some of the gravy spooned over the meat. Pass the rest of the gravy in a sauce boat at the table.