September 08, 2008
Brisket - two ways
Before I get into these two recipes, I want to say a few words about Deer Creek Beef. For some time, I've been reading about this big trend for local, sustainable food. And, although I'm not prone to sacrifice for the sake of fashion, a lot of the arguments I've read actually make sense. I'll still buy artichokes and avocados shipped from California, since I don't see any alternative. But around here, there are plenty of seafood and produce stands. So when it's in season, I buy my produce locally, and get my seafood locally. I was a bit bothered that I didn't know how to get meat locally. Especially considering that I drive by a LOT of farms every day. So I did some snooping around. From a fantastic website devoted to local food in my region; Edible Chesapeake, I discovered Deer Creek Beef. That was some months ago. Last month, I finally got around to dragging myself up to the Bel Air Farmers market, and bought a $50.00 sample pack. Over the next two weeks, I sampled their roasts, steaks, ground beef, etc... Every thing I tried was absolutely delicious. I wouldn't have thought there'd be much difference, you know? It all comes from cow. But the guys over at Deer Creek Beef take a great deal of care in their entire operation. All the beef is dry cured for 3 weeks, and I have to say, there must be something to their methods, because I haven't tasted better beef. And it ends up being less expensive than buying comparable cuts at the super market. For any of you who are local to Harford County, MD, I'll also mention that you can buy their meats at the Mill of Bel Air all year round, in case you don't get out to the farmer's market often. The Mill of Bel Air has a freezer case by the front door, and I also found out that if you call them a day ahead, -- they'll put together a sampler pack for you. So, Deer Creek Beef has made a local sustainable believer out of me. And both these recipes were made with a brisket I purchased from them this weekend. (Really, one brisket was enough for both of these).
Brisket, you may know, comes from the front of the cow. Not a forward area of the side, the actual front of the animal. You might think of it as a chest plate. So there's a fair amount of connective tissue, and it gets a fair amount of work. Both of these factors make this cut an excellent candidate for low / slow cooking methods. And on the weekends, those are usually my favorite methods. Something about slowing everything down and giving the food time to become really delicious, is appealing to me and offers a break from the mad dash of the weeknight dinners when I'm trying to get everything done in less than 40 minutes so I can get everything else done and things set for the morning, not to mention running the kids around to various practices, meetings and so forth.
My favorite treatment for a brisket is smoking. However, my Lovely Charming Bride waxes reminiscent of our favorite barbeque joint in Alpine, CA, Ramon's. Ramon served a delicious smoked brisket that was shredded. So, I decided to cut this brisket in half, and smoke half of it, and braise the other half. The braised half would get shredded. Next time, I think I'll smoke it for an hour or so, then braise it.
Following are both recipes. I should mention that whether smoking or braising, you'll get favorable results by starting with an overnight marinade, and a rub. Both of these started out this way.
2 parts seasoned salt
3 parts fresh ground black pepper
1 part paprika
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce.
Mix the seasonings together and rub them into both sides of the brisket. Put the brisket in your favorite air-tight marinating container, and cover it with the marinade and refrigerate it. (if it doesn't cover, then turn the brisket halfway through the marinade process) This should soak for about 8 hours.
Before you start with the next steps, you'll want to take the brisket out of the refrigerator, and let it come to room temp. (about 30 minutes.)
1 Cup beef stock
1/2 cup burgundy
2 Tbsp worcestershire
1-2 tsp liquid smoke.
Preheat your oven to 275.
Get a cast iron pan fairly hot. (medium, to medium high)
Sear the brisket on both sides. (1-2 minutes per side.)
Place the brisket in a roasting pan.
Mix together: beef stock, burgundy, worcestershire, liquid smoke.
Pour the liquid over the brisket, and lift it a bit to make sure some gets underneath.
Cover the pan with foil, and put it in the oven for 2 1/2 - 3 hours.
After that, remove the brisket from the pan, and let it rest a bit.
Cut it across the grain, in 1-2 inch widths.
shred each strip with two forks.
Take the liquid in the pan, and pour it into a sauce pan.
Put the shredded brisket in with it, and simmer until the liquid reduces and concentrates into the meat. This could take 30 minutes to an hour. You'll be baby-sitting the pot during this stage to ensure that it doesn't scorch. In other words, --stir it occasionally.
Braising is slow cooking with moist direct heat. Smoking is slow cooking with dry, indirect heat. (and smoke, of course) Smokers come in all shapes and sizes, and you'll want to follow the directions for your particular style of smoker. I'm partial to charcoal, and hickory. But you can do this with a propane grill, and a lot of folks prefer mesquite, apple, or pecan wood for smoking. Regardless of the type of wood you choose for flavoring, the process is largely the same.
Soak your wood chips for at least 30 minutes. While the wood is soaking, start your fire. My smoker has an off-set firebox, so I pile the charcoal on pretty heavily. When the flame dies, and the corners of the briquets are gray, put the brisket in the main part of the smoker, just under the smoke stack. (The vent is open on the firebox, and the lid to the smokestack is also open, which draws the smoke through. The brisket is about 18 - 24 inches from the fire.) Close the lid to the main chamber of the smoker, and add some wood chips to the charcoal. Then close the lid to the firebox, but leave the vent open. My smoker has a built in thermometer, making it easy to maintain the temperature. When the temp gets below 200, add more charcoal. Periodically, add some wood chips. I let this cook for about 4-6 hours, checking the temp, fire, and chips about every hour.
You can also do this with a propane grill, if that's what you have. The key is indirect heat, and smoke. They sell cast iron smoke boxes, that hold your chips. Fill it with wood chips and put it right down on the diffusers. Light the back and front burners, and keep the brisket in the center. Maintain the temp at about 275.
When it's done, take it inside, and slice it thinly across the grain.
Brisket cooked either of these ways can be served with your favorite bbq sauce, or simply as-is. The flavor is incredible. So before the weather cools down too much, carve out a weekend that isn't too packed with errands, and treat yourself to some slow food. And if you can do it, -- make the effort to find local beef. You'll be surprised at the difference.