Monday, August 22, 2011

Slow Cooker Braised Brisket

If you've read my bio on our "About" section, you might remember that my Grandma, Marguerite, was a great cook. She was truly one of those people who believed that food was love. As soon as you walked into her house, the offers began. Pretzels? Cookies? Candy? - often peanut M&Ms or those little pastel colored gummy pillow things covered in sugar, which were always in the green glass dish she kept on the coffee table. Iced tea? A soda? Help yourself! Aren't you hungry? Did you get enough? She wanted everyone around her to be full and happy.

She and my Grandpa, Otto, made a great team in the kitchen, and we ate more meals in their house than I could count. Most weekends, my family along with my aunt and uncle and 2 cousins, went over for dinner, and from the moment you walked in the front door, you were greeted with amazing aromas: macaroni and cheese, lasagna, chicken parmesan, brisket.... Drooooool....brisket.... (I'm not sure there's a written equivalent for the sound I just made as I was typing that.) Brisket was one of her most requested recipes. Sometimes she would make it in mass quantities for graduation parties or holidays, and more than once I'm pretty sure some of the invitees only decided they would attend after they were assured there would be brisket there. Her version was braised in the oven in a gravy made from prepackaged ingredients like onion soup mix, canned mushrooms, canned beef gravy and Italian dressing. Sometimes we would just eat it on its own, but often she would serve it with rolls to make sandwiches. I have to tell you, it was awesome. It's still awesome.

But I can't help it - I love to tinker, especially when prepackaged stuff can be eliminated in favor of more scratch-made ingredients. And to be honest, I hate mushrooms. Like, violently hate them. If you want to eat the stuff that might grow on somebody's bathmat, you go right ahead. I'm not interested. Over the years I've gotten really good at picking them out of everything, but since this was my version of the recipe, I wanted to do a brisket that was based on an onion sauce, as opposed to a mushroom sauce. I also cut out the canned gravy in favor of homemade and braised it in the slow cooker. Brisket is a perfect candidate for the slow cooker because you have to cook it so freakin' long to make it tender. But this is not a "throw some crap in the slow cooker and turn it on" kind of recipe either. It's pretty involved, and definitely takes some forethought since (1) it cooks for a good 8 hours, and (2) it needs to chill overnight after it cooks. But I hope you will agree that it's worth the effort.

Slow Cooker Braised Brisket

When I say "trimmed of excess fat," I'm talking about like the really thick, hard stuff that's never going to break down. You'll want to leave some fat on there, but not as much as would typically be on your regular old grocery store hunk of meat.

This is not an occasion to waste good wine in your food. I used a super cheap bottle of Merlot that was already open from a previous recipe. When you're ready to slice the meat, it's a good time to bust out your electric knife, if you have one. I happened to be cooking this at my parents' house, which allowed me to "vintage" it up even more by using their 1970s era avocado green electric knife. But, hey, it still works.

4 to 4 1/2 lb. flat cut beef brisket, trimmed of excess fat
1 tsp. oil
salt and pepper
rolls of your choice (optional, if you want to make a sandwich out of it)

Onion Sauce

2 large onions, cut into thick slices
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
3 garlic cloves, pressed through a garlic press
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup Italian dressing


3 Tbs. butter
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
1 stalk celery, cut into 1/2" chunks
1 small onion or half a large onion, cut into 1/2" chunks
1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 cans (14.5 oz. each) reduced sodium beef broth
5 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. salt

Place the brisket fat side up and poke all over with a fork. Generously season each side of the brisket with salt and pepper. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a 12-inch skillet until just smoking. (Do not use a nonstick skillet here.) Cook the brisket in the skillet, fat side up, for 4 to 5 minutes or until very well browned. Flip the brisket fat side down and brown that side for another 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the brisket and place in a slow cooker; turn the cooker on to low and cover.

For the Onion Sauce: Over medium-high heat, add the onions, 1/4 tsp. salt and sugar to the skillet, stirring often and scraping up the fond from the bottom of the skillet. Continue to cook the onions until well softened and a bit caramelized, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and soy sauce, stirring and cooking for several more minutes until the color darkens a bit. Add the red wine and the Italian dressing. Stir and let simmer for a minute or 2. Pour the onion sauce over the brisket and replace the cover on the slow cooker.

For the Gravy: Place the carrot and celery in a food processor and pulse until slightly broken down. Add the onion and pulse again until well broken down. Meanwhile, melt the butter in the now empty skillet over medium heat. Once the butter is melted and has stopped foaming, add the processed vegetables and cook until softened, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly until all the veggies are coated with flour. Slowly whisk in the first can of beef broth. After the first can is incorporated, stir in the second, as well as the salt, peppercorns and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain the gravy over the brisket, discarding the solids.

Cover the slow cooker again and cook for 8 hours on low.

Place the cooked brisket and the onion gravy into a large bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. You can also just take the entire slow cooker server bowl and stick it in the fridge; that's what I did. The next day, use a wide, shallow spoon to skim the congealed fat off of the top. Remove the brisket and place on a large cutting board. Thinly slice the brisket against the grain and on the bias. Return the sliced brisket to the onion gravy. Here you can go one of 2 ways: if you have some extra time and don't want to heat up your oven, return the brisket and gravy to the slow cooker and heat on low for several hours. If you are short on time, pour the brisket and gravy into a large baking dish, cover with foil, and place in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

I served mine with smashed potatoes and glazed carrots. Yum! I wanted green beans but they were $2.29 a pound, and at that price, they better cook themselves and then do the dishes. If you didn't want to make this into a sandwich, some plain old mashed potatoes would be a great side, as this makes a lot of gravy.

1 comment:

  1. I have had the original version of this and can attest that it is damn good. I can't wait to try a powdered-soup free version. Though I will have to buy a slow cooker first :(