Looking north from Fire Island

Looking north from Fire Island
Continuing the cooking articles I write every summer

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Succulent Beef Brisket

Beef brisket which has been cured in salt and spices is called corned beef. The name comes from the corn kernel size pieces of salt they used to use. Most of the time it's not corned. No matter, it is still one of the delicious cuts of beef. Texas BBQ is always beef brisket. Jewish cooking often uses this cut, as does Middle Eastern cookery. The meat is highly marbled with the rich kind of fat that melts in your mouth, giving a juicy quality to the meat. It rewards patience; it needs long, slow cooking to soften the collagen tissue, and melt the fat. Higher heat melts the collagen out of the meat, and you have a dry piece of brisket.

This time, I'm writing about the not-corned brisket. What I do is simple: Have ready a pile of carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, and peeled garlic. Slice the garlic, cut the veg's into hunky sized pieces. Into a heavy casserole you have heated to screaming hot, add a few glugs of oil, and sear the meat on all sides. remove the meat to a plate, and sear the vegetables. Now you add a few tablespoons of tomato paste, which you cook in the bottom of the pot. Stir to cook the tomato paste, add back the meat, and add stock or water to barely cover the meat. Lower the fire to the barest simmer, cover, and leave it alone. Go away. Turn it over after an hour. An hour later, a test with a chef's fork will tell you if it needs more cooking. Test the vegetables for doneness, and remove them to a plate when they appear tender. Remove the meat and vegetables to a dish and cover with foil.

I love cabbage; any excuse to have some, I go for it. At this point I can cut a savoy cabbage into eighths and plunk them into the pot. It adds time to the process, but to me it's totally worth it.

Skim the fat from the liquid, and taste for seasoning. Now, mix some flour with some of the cooled down liquid to make a slurry the consistency of thin pancake batter. Mix until no lumps exist. Add the slurry slowly to the simmering liquid, bit by bit, until the gravy is as thick as you want. Bring the sauce to the boil after each addition to let the flour do its job. How much will depend on your tastes, and the particular nature of the flour, which will vary.

Now that the meat has rested, slicing is next. Note the meat has a grain, like wood. The grain signifies the way the muscles lie, and the meat must be cut across the grain. If cut a you slice, and see the long grain, turn the meat over and slice from the other side. This guarantees you will be enjoying tender brisket and not chewing each bite for half an hour. It takes a bit of experimenting, but well, I'm confident you'll get it.

Serve the meat on a hot plate (the oven) with layers of gravy on top and underneath.

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