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What’s cooking today: New York brisket

What’s cooking today: New York brisket
Brisket slow-cooked with onions, garlic, paprika, thyme and red wine. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

In every second movie set in New York City, somebody somewhere will cook, order, or talk about brisket, or their mother’s recipe for it. Here’s my stab at cooking it and getting it right.

Brisket is that tough and somewhat needy cut of beef that craves attention and plenty of time in the oven. Chefs worth their kosher salt will tell you that, though brisket is tough, it has masses of flavour and texture, and that cooking it correctly will be well worth the effort. They’re not wrong. 

So we can’t just slap a hunk of brisket in hot fat to brown it, shove it in the oven for a couple of hours and expect a good result. It needs broth, as Americans call stock; it needs strength of flavour and can take it, and it needs time. And thyme, in my recipe at any rate. 

In the US, brisket is all about onions and paprika. Oh and garlic. So much garlic. Like, in the case of your New York Jewish mama’s brisket, a whole head of it. And so many onions. Many recipes call for six. Even more. And so much paprika, especially with Texan recipes for it; not quite so much in NYC it seems. A lot of recipes also include fennel. Some US brisket recipes call for it to be smoked (usually the Texan ones). 

As is my wont, you will have noticed by now if you follow these recipes, I do a lot of research before writing one. Having read half a library’s worth of them, this is what I came up with, bearing in mind that I was looking for the NYC way with it (I made an earlier, Texan, version of brisket here which differs in that in that case the meat is not browned first): yes, plenty of onion; yes, an entire head of garlic; yes, a fair whack of paprika, and also allspice, which is a key ingredient of many recipes, along with red wine and the requisite beef stock. No fennel though; there ain’t a lot of that in the Karoo right now. But do throw some in the pot if you can get some. 

The result was, to my palate, a wonderful blend of flavours in succulent, well-sauced brisket. You could taste the onions, the garlic, the paprika, and the thyme; that spells balance. I was thrilled. 

Ingredients 

3 Tbsp olive oil 

1 x 2 kg slab of brisket, or larger, with the fat cap intact 

3 large onions, sliced 

2 medium onions to caramelise and add when serving 

1 whole head of garlic, broken up into its cloves 

3 Tbsp salt 

½ tsp black pepper 

1 Tbsp paprika 

½ tsp Cayenne pepper 

4 thyme sprigs, picked 

1 tsp ground allspice 

tsp ground cloves 

1 cup/ 250 ml red wine 

1 cup/ 250 ml beef stock 

3 bay leaves 

Thyme sprigs, salt, pepper and olive oil to caramelise the extra onions

Method 

Preheat the oven to 180

Rinse the brisket under cold running water and pat thoroughly dry. Mix the paprika, Cayenne, thyme, salt and pepper together to make a rub.

Rub it into the meat and fat on all sides, massaging it in. 

Heat olive oil in a heavy oven pan (which has a lid) on the stove top and brown the brisket well on all sides. 

Add all the sliced onions, the garlic cloves (peeled but whole), the allspice, cloves, red wine, beef stock and bay leaves. If the meat is not yet covered by the stock, add more water to cover. 

Put the lid on and put it in the 180oven for 30 minutes, then turn the heat down to 160and cook for 4 hours or more. 

During the last hour or so, check it now and then to make sure it is intact. You need to avoid it becoming so soft that it disintegrates, as it needs to slice neatly. All ovens differ, so the last lap requires your vigilance to make sure you don’t take it too far. 

In the last while before it’s ready to be served, slice and caramelise the remaining onions in olive oil with more thyme sprigs, salt and pepper, until golden. 

Remove the pot from the oven and take off the lid. Leave it for 20 minutes or so for the fat to settle on the surface. Spoon off as much fat as you can. 

If there is still a lot of stock left, you can remove the brisket and reduce it down a little on a high heat. 

Cut the meat into slices and serve with plenty of sauce, topped with caramelised onions. I reckon mashed potato is the perfect accompaniment for it. DM/TGIFood 

To enquire about Tony Jackman’s book, foodSTUFF (Human & Rousseau) please email him at [email protected] 

Our Thank God It’s Food newsletter is sent to subscribers every Friday at 6pm, and published on the TGIFood platform on Daily Maverick. It’s all about great reads on the themes of food and life. Subscribe here.

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