Friday, May 8, 2009
Seasonal Impropriety: Brisket in May
What I am about to do here is entirely inappropriate, but I have been sitting on this recipe for far too long, and it's just not right anymore. I have to face the facts: there is likely no dish out there that is more wrong for this time of year. And I realize that this may just prevent you from giving this one a try, but I must urge you to reconsider.
I know that bathing suit season is around the corner, and brisket and bathing suits go together like A-Rod and clutch hitting, but New York City has seen nothing but rain for the past three months (that's how long it's been, right? I'm not sure I recall what the sun actually looks like anymore). But something about this year's spring has prevented me from jumping head-first into the comforts of the season; trench coats, puddles, general sogginess, and the omnipresent umbrella have all made it quite hard to leave behind the warmth and familiarity of so many winter comforts.
It's been a gloomy, foggy, schpritzey kind of spring, with the odd 90-degree days thrown in for good measure. Two weeks ago I wore my winter coat on Monday, scarf and all, and by Sunday I was laying out in Central Park in a bikini. One week, two diametrically opposed seasons, and zero plane trips to tropical locales in the dead of winter. So please don't blame me for being seasonally confused. I'm well aware that summer is fast-approaching (to which my borderline disgusting consumption of frozen dairy goods over the last month can attest), but there's just something in the air (uh, probably constant 98% humidity, and not the warm, pleasant summer night kind) that's been preventing me from breaking out the sandals for good.
I admit that brisket is a traditionally cold-weather cut of meat, as many tougher, more inexpensive cuts are, since they require long, slow preparations to render them supple and tender. And yes, this recipe was made for Passover, but this meal is really, and truly, undeniably fantastic. And deliciousness knows no bounds!
So hear my case - brisket need not be relegated to wintertime. Yes, the fact that it requires a long cooking time and tends to be paired with deep, hearty, warming flavors may suggest that it's best enjoyed in chillier times, but this needn't be the case. Free brisket from the chains of seasonality - slice it, sandwich it between two pieces of crusty bread, throw it in a basket with a nice, fresh salad and some fruit and lo and behold - a picnic! What's more summery than a picnic? Not much, not much at all.
This recipe gives a great deal of flexibility in its preparation, since it can be finished a couple of days after it's been started, which is great news for those of us who find ourselves flitting to and fro on a whim whenever a summer breeze decides to pass through.
Beef Brisket with Merlot and Prunes
from Bon Appetit April 2008, recipe here
1 4-to 4 1/2-pound flat-cut (first-cut) beef brisket, trimmed of most fat
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
1 cup Merlot or other dry red wine
2 pounds onions, sliced
4 medium carrots, peeled, thinly sliced
16 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 cups pitted large prunes (about 8 ounces)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon prune juice
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 325°F.
Pat brisket dry (this is necessary to get great browning - make sure the meat really is dry) and season all over with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy extra-large skillet over high heat.
Add brisket and cook until deep brown, about 7 minutes per side. Transfer brisket, fat side up, to large roasting pan. Add tomatoes with juice and wine to skillet. Remove from heat, scrape up any browned bits, and pour mixture over brisket.
Scatter onions, carrots, and garlic around brisket. Add prunes and thyme; drizzle with 1/2 cup prune juice and 3 tablespoons vinegar. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place the roasting pan over 2 burners and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place in the preheated oven.
Braise brisket until tender, about 3 hours 15 minutes. Uncover and cool 1 hour at room temperature.
The brisket can be made up to third point 2 days ahead; just cover the pan with foil and throw it in the fridge. To resume, bring the liquid just to a simmer over two burner and continue on.
Remove the brisket from roasting pan, scraping it of juices. Place on work surface;cut across grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Spoon off fat from top of pan juices. Place 1 cup vegetables (no prunes) and 1 cup braising liquid from pan into processor and puree. Return puree to pan. Add remaining 1 tablespoon prune juice and 1 teaspoon vinegar to pan. Heat sauce; season with salt and pepper.
Overlap brisket slices in 13x9x2- inch glass baking dish. Pour sauce over brisket, separating slices to allow some sauce to flow between. DO AHEAD:Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.
Rewarm brisket, covered, in 350°F oven for 30 minutes. Sprinkle brisket with parsley; serve.
Note - you can use a slender metal pin or a thin, sharp knife to check whether the brisket is tender. Insert the pin into the thickest part of the brisket; if it meets no resistance, the brisket is done.