Yield: 8 generous servings
Dried mushrooms flavor the brisket as it cooks, then fresh mushrooms are sautéed and added to the gravy just before serving, so they retain their meaty succulence.
1 ounce dried wild mushrooms, preferably boletus--that is, porcini or cèpes; shiitake don't work well here (1/2 to ¾ cup)
about 5 tablespoons 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
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed, plus 1 ½ tablespoons chopped garlic
2 large carrots, scraped and coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk celery with leaves, coarsely chopped
2 cups chicken broth, homemade or good-quality low-sodium purchased
3 fresh thyme sprigs, plus ½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 Turkish bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 1 pound fresh mushrooms (about 4 cups); wiped clean, trimmed, and sliced. Choose from exotic, cultivated varieties, such as shiitakes and creminis; wild ones (hen-of-the-woods, chanterelles, etc.); or plain white mushrooms; or a combination
3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Soak the dried mushrooms in 2 cups hot water for 30 minutes, or until soft. Drain the mushrooms through a strainer lined with paper towels or a coffee filter, reserving the soaking liquid. Wash the mushrooms under cold running water to remove any remaining grit, chop them coarsely, and set aside.
Heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat in a large heavy-bottomed roasting pan, using two burners, if necessary, or in a wide 6-quart Dutch oven or flameproof casserole. Add the brisket, and brown well on both sides, about 10 minutes. 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.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of fat remaining in the pan, and add the onions. (Or add 1 tablespoon of oil here if you broiled the brisket.) Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the crushed garlic, carrots, and celery and continue cooking until the onions are golden, 7 to 10 minutes, stirring and scraping the pan to prevent scorching or sticking.
Add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid and chopped dried mushrooms and bring the mixture to a boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, until the liquid is reduced by about half. Add the broth, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves and bring the mixture to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Lightly salt and pepper the brisket on both sides, and add it to the pan, fat side up, spooning the vegetables all over the meat. Cover the pan tightly (use heavy-duty foil if you don't have a lid for the pan), and braise the brisket in the oven, basting every half hour, until the meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours or more. (Turn the oven down to 300 degrees F if the braising liquid begins to bubble rapidly.)
The brisket tastes best if it is allowed to rest, reabsorbing the juices lost during braising, and it's easiest to defat the gravy if you prepare the meat ahead and refrigerate it until the fat solidifies. That is the method I use, given here, but the gravy can be prepared by skimming the fat in the traditional way, if you prefer. If you go that route, though, do let the meat rest in the pan sauce for at least an hour.
Cool the brisket in the pan sauce, cover well with foil, and refrigerate until the fat congeals. Scrape off all solid fat. Remove the brisket from the pan and slice thinly across the grain.
Prepare the fresh mushrooms: in a large, heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil and turn the heat to high. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until they release some juice, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, add the chopped garlic, and continue sautéing, lifting and turning often until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are golden brown. (You can do this a few hours before you are ready to finish the gravy.)
Finish the gravy: bring the brisket braising mixture to room temperature, then strain it, reserving the vegetables. Skim and discard as much fat as possible from the liquid, and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Puree about one-half the reserved vegetables and 1 cup of the defatted braising liquid in a food processor or a blender (for a thicker gravy, puree all of these reserved vegetables). Transfer the pureed mixture, the remaining braising liquid, and any vegetables that you didn't purée to a very large skillet and reduce the gravy over high heat to the desired consistency. Taste for seasoning. Stir in the sautéed mushrooms and the brisket and simmer until the meat is heated through. (You'll need a skillet to reduce the sauce, but if it is not big enough to accommodate the meat, transfer everything to a clean roasting pan to re-heat the brisket and mushrooms in a slow oven). Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and parsley, stir, and simmer 2-3 minutes more to marry the flavors.
Arrange the sliced brisket on a platter. Ladle the hot gravy over the meat and serve immediately.