How to Make the Perfect Brisket Without a Recipe

It’s a simple order of operations.

It is no small feat to transform a tough cut like brisket into a tender, flavorful holiday centerpiece. That said, it most definitely can be done. Brisket recipes can be a pretty contentious subject because every family has their own formula and uses a unique set of ingredients. I am not here to tell you which set of ingredients is superior to all the rest. Instead, I'm here to provide you with the tools and knowledge to whip up a juicy, delicious cut of brisket for Passover without sweating over a strict recipe. By following a basic set of guidelines, the star of your seder will be anything but dry and boring.

First things first, let's talk about brisket, shall we? Like I mentioned, this is an extremely tough cut of meat. It comes from the breast and chest area of the cow, which means there's a whole lot of muscle (which contributes to a tough texture) and not a whole lot of fat compared to other cuts, like a ribeye or New York strip (which means you're going to have to work a bit harder to create rich flavor). But hey, when life gives you a tough cut of meat, the only thing to do is braise it.

For the sake of basic ratios, let's say you're cooking a 5-pound piece of brisket. Remember, measurements aren't *too* crucial when you're braising because you can always adjust the flavors at the end — what's most important here is that you're following a basic order of operations.

Sear Your Brisket

The first thing you'll want to do when you're braising any cut is to sear the meat. This creates browning and caramelization which is the first step to developing flavor. Don't worry about trimming fat like you might do for some other braises — we want to hold onto all the flavor we can get. Give your slab of brisket a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, and then heat a neutral oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven. Sear the meat on all sides until a golden brown crust forms. Once the brisket is seared all over, remove it with tongs to a plate. If your brisket is too large for your Dutch oven, you can also place it on a wire rack set over a sheet pan and brown it under your oven broiler, rotating it every few minutes.

Introduce Aromatics & Deglaze

After the meat is seared, then it's time to introduce some aromatics. A basic mirepoix (a mixture of a few chopped veggies: a couple onions, a few stalks of celery, and a carrot or two) will do the trick. Mushrooms are a great way to add a deep, umami flavor to the dish (maybe you throw in a pound of 'em, sliced), and a little garlic never hurt anybody, right? You'll want to saute these in the same pot that you used to sear the brisket, making sure to sweat the aromatics rather than char them, so don't go above a medium heat. From there, you can deglaze the pan with white or red wine (about 1 cup), which will help you to scrape up some caramelized bits at the bottom of the pan. And trust me, you want those bits — those bits are pure flavor.

To Tomato or Not?

Once you've deglazed, it's time to add a tomato product. Now, this is where it gets a little dicey (puns), because some families' brisket recipes do not call for this. If that's the case for you, feel free to skip it. However, I like the sweetness and acidity that a canned tomato product can add to the dish. Remember, we're trying to pull together as much flavor and moisture as possible, so I think a tomato product is a welcomed addition. A couple cans of crushed or diced tomatoes in combination with some tomato paste or ketchup will do the trick.

Submerge Your Brisket & Bake

Whether you're using a tomato product or not, you'll definitely need a braising liquid. Beef or chicken stock is your best bet, although some brisket recipes incorporate orange juice, apple juice, Cola, or ginger ale. If a splash of these braising liquids appeal to you, then go for it. Maybe throw in a few bay leaves or some sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary, if you can. Nestle your brisket back into the pot, making sure that it is mostly submerged in liquid. Transfer your pot to a 300°F oven and let it braise until the meat is fork-tender and nearly falling apart. For a 5-pound piece of meat, this should take around 3 to 3 ½ hours, but you'll need to get in there and check for yourself.

Slice & Simmer

If you prefer, you can always braise your meat a day or two before you plan on serving it. Not only does this give the flavors a little bit more time to get to know each other, but it's much easier for you to remove the solidified fat cap after the braise has sat in the fridge overnight (you can always skim fat if you make the braise the day of, but this is not as effective). The most important thing that you'll need to do when it comes time to serve the brisket is to thinly slice it across the grain, then return the sliced brisket to the braising liquid, where it should simmer for another 30 minutes. This not only hydrates the meat but imparts a ton of flavor.

The Finishing Touches

Now, we're in the final stretch. Season the meat and braising liquid with some salt and pepper, and if it needs a hit of acid, give it a squeeze of lemon or a touch of apple cider vinegar. Serve it with some fresh parsley or something green, and you've got yourself a beautifully tender and flavorful brisket. Maybe challenging, but definitely worth the effort.

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