Friday, April 23, 2010

Passover + Easter + Quebec = DELICIOUS

This year, I purposed to stamp out the tyranny of the spiral sliced ham at Easter. I had grown bored with it and wanted something different. So I was guided by my Jewish friends, and opted instead for that Passover staple, the brisket. I believe I've made one in the distant past, but I have no real memory of it, so it must not have been mentally noteworthy. But armed with a recipe from Smitten Kitchen and my fabulous new Le Creuset Dutch oven, I was ready to try again.

The first thing I needed to do was the acquire said brisket. So we decided to take a lovely, looping drive over to Noyan, QC to the cheesemaker, then over to Lacolle to the German butcher for various sausages and cold cuts, and finally to the butcher in Hemmingford for the brisket. We were having a very nice day, and we were planning to have dinner at the cute little pub in Hemmingford before heading back across the border.

But when we came out of the butcher, my car was dead as a doornail. This was very worrisome, because it was past closing time on a Saturday, and there was only one mechanic in the village, and he was not answering his phone. A couple of nice fellows stopped at tried to help, but to no avail.

However, one of them informed me that AAA membership covers all of North America. Who knew? That is a very wonderful thing for those of us who live on the border and cross over and back a lot. Of course, if your car needs to be towed, it does get a little complicated. Apparently, one tow truck will take you to the border, and then another one on the other side has to take you the rest of the way. What a pain!

Happily, I only needed a jump start, and while we waited the half hour or so for the nice Canadian towing guy to come give us a boost, we busted out the cheeses and meats and a crusty loaf of bread, and had a little feast on the picnic table right in front of the butcher shop! So if you have to break down, that's definitely the way to do it!

By the hardest, we managed to make it home before the brisket became room temperature. And then the next day, I prepared it in a tangy sauce in my beautiful new Dutch oven for Easter dinner. It came out very tender and flavorful, and I served the savory sauce over some spatzle that I bought at the German butcher. Yum!

Tangy Spiced Brisket
(Source: adapted from
Smitten Kitchen)
Serves 8 to 10

3 large onions, sliced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/4 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups beef stock
1 cup ketchup
1 cup chili sauce* (I used 2 cups of
homemade spicy chili sauce and omitted the ketchup)
1/2 cup brown sugar
8 to 10 pound brisket (I only did half of the brisket, less than five pounds)

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and sauté onions in vegetable oil, stirring occasionally, until caramelized and most of liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add halved garlic cloves and saute for 3 minutes more. Stir in spices and seasoning (paprika, salt, garlic and onion powders, black pepper, cayenne, oregano and thyme) and cook for 2 minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the beef stock, ketchup, chili sauce and brown sugar. If baking in oven: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place brisket in Dutch oven, spread onion mixture over the top, then pour sauce mixture over the entire dish. Cover and bake until very tender but not falling apart, about 3 to 4 hours. Or you could make it in a slow cooker*; place brisket in a slow cooker, spread onion mixture over the top, then pour sauce mixture over the entire dish. Cover with the lid and cook it on low for 10 hours.

For both methods, rest the dish. When the brisket is cooked but still hot, use a spoon to scrape off any large fat deposits adhered to the top and bottom of the brisket. (This part is easiest to do when hot. The sauce will be de-fatted after it has chilled.) If you’re using a slow cooker, transfer the brisket and all of its sauce to a baking dish. If you’ve baked it in the oven, you can continue in that same dish. Chill entire dish in the fridge for several hours and up to one day; this resting time will significantly enhance the flavor and texture of the meat.

An hour before you’re ready to serve it, preheat your oven to 300°F, and remove the dish from the fridge. Remove all of the fat that has solidified with a slotted spoon for a less oily finish. Carefully remove the meat from its sauce and place on a large cutting board. Cut the brisket into 1/2-inch slices. Carefully place the sliced meat (moving it in large sections with a spatula helps keep it together) back into the sauce and spoon the sauce over the meat. Replace the lid or cover the dish tightly with foil and reheat in the oven until it is bubbling at the edges — this usually takes up to to 30 minutes.

*Although I adore my slow cooker, I’m still not sure which box it’s in since the move. So I made this in my Dutch oven, cooking it overnight (200 degrees for 9 hours), then chilling for about the same time. I brought the sauce to a boil while I was defatting and slicing the meat, then finished it all in the oven for about 45 minutes at 350. The brisket was very flavorful, and the pieces usually split in half when you tried to pick them up, as they were so tender!

My only regret is refrigerating the meat in the Dutch oven instead of a smaller, less heat-retaining vessel. It never did get cold enough for the fat to solidify, so I had to skim the oil off the top like you might do for gravy, but it was still greasier than I would have preferred. However, after refrigerating the leftovers, it was easy to get the remaining solid fat off the top of the sauce before reheating for meal #2.

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