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.
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.
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.
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
A few pantry and fridge door items provide the flavorful braising sauce for this oh-so-tender, point-cut brisket.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.