Brisket becomes reasonably tender as long as it is cooked for a long time, with plenty of moisture. My favorite seasonings for it are very, very basic: the taste of the meat itself, some spices, and onions simmered in butter; a little bit of tomato is also nice. I serve brisket made this way, over broad noodles. But brisket is also great seasoned with bolder spices, or with sweet fruits and vegetables; see the variations.
Two technical points: You can skip the initial browning if you’re pressed for time or don’t want to bother; the difference, in the end, will be minimal. And although it’s tempting to “tear” brisket along the grain, it’s better to slice it against the grain; use a very sharp carving knife and you can get beautiful, thin slices.
Yield: Makes 10 or more servings
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
1 whole beef brisket, about 5 pounds
Salt and lots of freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons butter (preferred) or more oil
2 cups minced onions
3 tablespoons tomato paste or 1 large ripe tomato, cored and chopped (peeled and seeded if you have time)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, or water
1 Preheat the oven to 325°F (you can also cook this brisket on top of the stove if you like). If you choose to brown the brisket first, heat a large casserole or Dutch oven that can later be covered over medium-high heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the oil, swirl it around, then add the beef. Sear it for about 5 minutes on each side, or until it is nicely browned. Season it with salt and pepper and remove to a platter.
2 Wipe out the pan with paper towels and return it to the stove; turn the heat to medium and add the butter. When it foams, add the onions and cook, stirring, until they are golden and soft, at least 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper, then stir in the tomato paste and the garlic. Return the meat to the pan, add the stock or water, and cover.
3 Cook over low heat or in the oven, turning the meat about every 30 minutes, until tender, 2½ to 3 hours. If the sauce seems too thin, allow the meat to rest on a platter for a few minutes while you boil the liquid down over high heat, scraping the bottom of a pan with a wooden spoon, until it thickens somewhat. Taste the sauce and add salt and/or pepper if needed. Slice the meat, return it to the sauce, and serve.
Spicy Beef Brisket: Before searing, rub the meat all over with a mixture of 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, ¼ teaspoon cayenne (more if you like), ½ teaspoon ground coriander, and 2 teaspoons paprika. In Step 1, increase the oil to 2 tablespoons. In Step 2, use 2 tablespoons oil in place of the butter, and cook the onions over medium-high heat, stirring, until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Proceed as above.
Sweet Beef Brisket with Garlic: Steps 1 and 2 remain unchanged. When the meat is somewhat tender but not quite done-after about 1½ to 2 hours of braising-add to the pot 1 pound peeled and chunked sweet potatoes; 2 carrots, peeled and chunked; ½ Cup dried apricots; ½ cup dried pitted prunes (or other dried fruit); and 1 head of garlic, with most of the papery coating removed, cut in half horizontally. Continue to cook until all the fruits and vegetables are soft but not until they dissolve, 30 to 60 minutes. Serve, spreading the soft garlic on crusty bread