Spicy Beer-braised Brisket

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, begins this year on Sunday evening and runs through the day after Christmas. This occasion comes with its own food traditions, mainly those cooked in oil in a nod to the miraculous oil that “kept the lights on” for eight days.

Classic Crispy Latkes will be on the menu at our house at some point next week, and we enjoy serving them with a flavorful brisket and some of Les’s 3-Variety Overnight Applesauce, which is a traditional accompaniment to latkes. This year, I got a jump start on my brisket so that I could share a recipe with you. There are two primary ways to prepare a brisket. One is to smoke it over wood chips, and it is arguably my favorite preparation but it takes a considerable amount of planning and watching— neither of which I have time for during this month with its back-to-back holidays. The other method is a slow braise of the meat, which affords a lot of flexibility for flavor and much less fussing and tending because once it goes into the oven or slow cooker, it pretty much takes care of itself until dinner time. 

The second method is what I’m sharing today and despite its low effort, it produces a crazy tender bite— I’m talking, twist a fork into it and pull out a mouthwatering morsel that just about melts in your mouth. It’s that kind of tender.

This is like meat candy!

For this recipe, I’ve used what is called the “point cut” of the brisket, which is a small triangle-shaped piece that is attached to one end of the larger, flat brisket. This cut is usually about three pounds, which is plenty for two people for dinner and leftovers to boot. If you have a butcher shop, ask for a brisket point or check the supermarket meat case for a small piece of brisket that’s shaped like an irregular triangle. You’ll save some time and mess that way.

Otherwise, you’ll need to separate the point from the larger brisket— an undertaking that I did myself for the first time last week. It’s not difficult, especially with some help from all the YouTube videos out there (plus I had my smoke master cousin, Brad, on a text chat for moral support), but it does take some effort, patience and a really sharp utility knife.

It took some whittling (see all that fat in the bag?), but I’m pretty sure I got it right!

However you procure your brisket point, season it well on both sides with kosher salt and let it hang out at room temperature while you prepare the braising sauce, which is made from common ingredients that you probably already have in the pantry and refrigerator door.


From this stage, the brisket only needs your full-on attention for about 15 minutes for browning all sides and sautéing up an onion (right in the same skillet) for braising. If you prefer, you could use a small-ish slow cooker for the braising step, but it’s important for the brisket to be mostly submerged in the sauce. For this reason, you’ll see that I’m using an oven-save glass baking dish. I placed the brisket on top of half the onions, then covered it with the rest of the onions. Next, mix up the sauce ingredients— chili-garlic sauce, spicy mustard, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, black pepper and tomato paste— then gently stir about a half bottle of beer into it.


Pour that all over the brisket and onions, seal it up super tight with a double layer of aluminum foil and tuck it into the oven at 325° F. Using a slow cooker? Set it on high until the liquid reaches a low boil, then drop it to low setting for the remainder of cooking time.


Then, ignore it. Take the dog for a walk, finish up some laundry, make a grocery list, binge watch a couple episodes of “The White Lotus,” do some online shopping, whatever. My point is that the brisket doesn’t need your attention at all. In fact, fussing over it or checking on it too much may mess up the cooking time or limit the tenderness. The sauce and the steam will get the job done. You don’t need to turn it or baste it or test it for doneness until at least three hours later. I let mine go for three and a half.

It’s almost falling apart with this gentle lifting!

This brisket was insanely tender and the sauce had melded into a delicious, syrupy glaze. I removed it from the baking dish to a plate until it was cool enough to handle, then laid it on the cutting board for some cross-grain slices. A properly cooked brisket will virtually cut like butter, and when it is warm from the oven, your slices will be a bit thicker. If you want really thin slices, refrigerate the brisket overnight and slice it cold, then warm it up in the sauce.


We couldn’t wait that long at our house, and we enjoyed this on the spot with the braising sauce and some easy, oven-roasted russet potato wedges and a salad. It was so delicious, I can hardly wait for the leftovers!

And yes, I cooked the other part of the brisket— the large, flat part— also. Similar cooking method but different flavors; don’t worry, I’ll share it another day. 😉

Spicy Beer-braised Brisket

  • Servings: About 6
  • Difficulty: Average
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A few pantry and fridge door items provide the flavorful braising sauce for this oh-so-tender, point-cut brisket.


Ingredients

  • Point cut brisket, 3 to 4 pounds (preferably grass-fed)
  • Kosher salt to season both sides of the raw meat
  • 2 tsp. chili-garlic paste (find it in the Asian foods aisle)
  • 2 tsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp. prepared horseradish (mine was labeled “extra hot”)
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 15 twists freshly ground black pepper (about 1/2 tsp.)
  • 6 oz. lager beer (a dark beer would also be good here; nothing too “hoppy”)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into slivers or slices

I used a skillet for searing my brisket, and an oven-safe glass baking dish for the braising step. A small, lidded Dutch oven would be great for this recipe, so use that if you have one.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325° F, with oven rack in center position. Season both sides of the brisket with kosher salt and let it rest it room temperature for about 30 minutes before searing.
  2. Prepare the sauce: Whisk together all ingredients, except beer, adjusting to taste. Gently stir in the half-bottle of beer, so that it doesn’t bubble over out of the bowl. Set the braising sauce aside.
  3. Heat a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, carefully place the brisket into it, fat side-down. Let it sear until a golden crust is evident on the first side, then use kitchen tongs to carefully turn it so that every side (including the end) is seared. This should take a total of 7 to 10 minutes. Set the seared brisket on a plate. Spoon out some of the excess fat, if you wish, but keep enough to saute the onion slivers.
  4. Transfer the sauteed onion slivers to a baking dish that is deep enough for liquid to cover the brisket. Place the brisket atop the onions. Pour the braising sauce over the whole thing, and then cover the dish with a double layer of aluminum foil. Take care to seal up all edges really well so that steam remains completely inside the dish during braising.
  5. Put the brisket pan into the oven and set a timer for 3 hours. No peeking, and do not remove the brisket to turn it, baste it or otherwise disturb it.
  6. At the 3 hour mark—or later if you’re in the middle of something; this recipe is forgiving—remove the brisket pan and carefully peel back the foil cover. If the meat pulls easily with the twist of a fork, it’s ready. Let it cool a few minutes, then transfer the brisket to a cutting board. Use a sharp slicing knife to cut against the grain of the meat into slices as thin as you can manage. Transfer the slices back into the braising sauce so they can soak up the delicious flavors.

This recipe may be prepared a day or two ahead of serving, if you wish. Cool the finished brisket as a whole piece and refrigerate it overnight. It’s easier to make super-thin slices when the meat is cold and firm. Reheat the slices with the braising sauce, either over low heat in a covered skillet, or in a covered baking dish in the oven at about 325° F until it reaches desired serving temperature.



Bangers & Mash!

There cannot possibly be a food more deserving of the title “pub grub” than bangers and mash. This hearty, stick-to-your-ribs dish is original to Ireland and other parts of the U.K., and a real treat on St. Patrick’s Day, but its history reflects hard times for the Irish people. During W.W. I meat shortages, sausage makers resorted to stuffing the links with lesser amounts of pork or lamb, substituting fillers and higher-than-usual water concentration. As they cooked, the sausages exploded from their casings with a banging sound. Thus, “bangers.”

Today, you don’t have to look very hard to find a more meat-centric version of the sausages, and I found this delicious variety made by Johnsonville. They are slightly sweet, but with plenty of garlic flavor that I think holds up nicely to the dark stout beer used in the thick onion gravy. If you can’t find sausage that is labeled specifically as “Irish,” I would recommend any bratwurst-type of sausage as a fine substitute.

These Johnsonville sausages were delicious! If you do not find sausage labeled as “Irish,” I think bratwurst would be a good substitute.

The Irish, especially peasant populations, have always relied heavily on the nutrient-dense potato, for its fiber, antioxidants and minerals (especially potassium). Potatoes contain a resistant starch that is not absorbed by the body, but provides a vehicle to deliver nutrients to feed our gut bacteria, which is crucial for overall good health. Isn’t it nice to know that a favorite comfort food can actually be good for you? At our house, it’s a rare occasion to have any kind of potatoes other than my beloved’s fabulous garlic mashed, but their richness, and especially the parm-romano flavor, is not quite right for this meal. I’ve taken a different direction, using buttermilk and a moderate amount of butter to cream them up a bit, and a couple of spoons of horseradish, which gives them legs to stand under the intensely flavored Guinness onion gravy.

My version of the gravy begins with sautéed onions, and is finished with a very generous glug of Guinness stout, plus some broth. This gravy is big and bold, and if you wish, you can shift the ratio of stout or leave it out altogether in favor of beef broth—that’s up to you.

Garlicky sausages, simmered in Guinness and then piled onto hearty potatoes with the Guinness-onion gravy. This is some serious Irish pub grub!

The preparation of these three components (bangers, mash and gravy) will happen concurrently; if you are working ahead, the whole meal heats up nicely as leftovers.

Ingredients

Package of Irish banger sausages (or similar substitute)

1/2 cup Guinness stout ale*

2 1/2 lbs. starchy potatoes (I used a combination of russet and golds)

4 Tbsp. salted butter

1/2 cup thick buttermilk

1 1/2 tsp. prepared horseradish

Salt and pepper

It’s surprising to get so much flavor from so few ingredients. The scotch cocktail in the back is for the cook, not the gravy. 🙂

Guinness Onion Gravy

3 Tbsp. salted butter

1 large yellow onion, sliced (mine was about the size of a softball)

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 cup Guinness stout ale

1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

2 tsp. beef bouillon base*

2 tsp. dark brown sugar

Salt and pepper

*Notes

The Guinness stout ale is very strong, and carries a somewhat bitter note. I believe the secret to making delicious gravy with the stout is cooking it slowly, so the malty flavors remain but the alcohol cooks out and mellows in flavor. If you are averse to the bitter flavor, or avoiding alcohol, substitute a hearty beef stock for similar results. This recipe calls for a 12 oz. bottle; you will use part of it to simmer the sausages and the rest to finish the onion gravy. I purchased the “Foreign Extra” stout, but for less intense flavor, use a Guinness draught stout.

I use vegetable broth regularly for the nutrients and flavors, and I have amped up the flavor with a hearty spoon of beef bouillon base. If you prefer, skip the base and use beef broth.

Instructions

Let’s run through it together in pictures, then scroll to find written instructions, and a downloadable version you can print for your recipe files.

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into large chunks. Cook in salted water over medium-low heat until fork tender.
  2. Drain potatoes in a colander (reserve the water, if you wish, to make a batch of my sourdough potato bread with onions and dill). While potatoes drain, add butter and buttermilk to the cooking pot over medium heat until butter is mostly melted.
  3. Return hot potatoes to the pot and mash, seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in horseradish and additional butter, if desired.
  4. While the potatoes are cooking, place a medium, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and pour in 1/2 cup of the Guinness stout. Add sausages to the stout and simmer, turning sausages a few times, until sausage is plump and stout is reduced to a couple of tablespoons. This should be about 25 minutes. Transfer sausages to a separate dish and set aside to make the gravy.
  5. Pour any reduced stout into a glass measuring cup, along with vegetable broth and beef base.
  6. Add butter to the same pot used to simmer the sausages, and add onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and sauté over medium heat until onions are soft and translucent, at least 10 minutes.
  7. Sprinkle flour over onions in butter and stir until onions are coated and flour begins to cook. This is a roux that will be the thickener for your gravy. When the bottom of the pan begins to accumulate cooked, stuck-on flour, move the onions aside and pour in about half of the remaining Guinness stout. Stir, scraping up the cooked flour from the bottom.
  8. When the pan is de-glazed, pour in the remaining stout and the broth mixture, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened and reduced. You should take about 25 minutes for this step; don’t rush it, as simmering is necessary to blend the flavors and reduce the bitterness of the stout. Give it a taste and adjust salt and pepper as desired. If the gravy is overly bitter, stir in the brown sugar and simmer a few more minutes.
  9. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Swirl in a small amount of olive oil and add the plump banger sausages. Cook and turn until sausages are fully reheated and nicely browned.
  10. Plate the mashed potatoes, spoon on a bit of Guinness gravy, then top with bangers and a generous ladle of the onion gravy.

Want to make this classic Irish pub grub?