I decided to test my brisket theory one
more time. The theory is that a whole brisket, preferably with some,
if not a lot, of its fat still intact is vastly superior to a piece
of so-called "first cut" brisket that is, as most butchers sell
it today, very well trimmed; I think over-trimmed. The meat comes
out significantly more succulent if it cooks with its fat than if
it cooks lean. The fat can always be skimmed and trimmed afterward.
A whole brisket consists of two distinct
muscles: The first cut is the larger, leaner piece. The second cut,
which is also called "breast deckle," is on top of the first cut
and has more much more integral fat (marbling). The interior fat
alone makes the second cut more tender and juicy, but, in addition,
it is attached to the first cut by a large layer of fat.
The butcher trimmed almost all the fat
from the outside of both cuts, but had to leave the layer of fat
between the two muscles because it is the fat that links them together.
Trimmed, the whole brisket weighed 10 pounds.
I also got a whole piece of first cut brisket
weighing 7 pounds. Butchers tell me that no one wants second cut
brisket -- attached or not -- and so most butchers put it into their
ground meat mixture. What a waste! It's one of the most flavorful
cuts of meat on the entire animal.
Now, before I get to the actual pot roast
recipe and the experiment, here's a little history:
I, of course, learned to make pot roast
from my mother, who went through various stages with her pot roast
over her lifetime. The recipe below is the one she started with
because her mother, and her mother's Russian immigrant mother made
it this way -- more or less. It's also the one she ended up making
after the family suffered through years of pot roast made with Sauce
Arturo, pot roast made with ketchup, pot roast made with Lipton's
onion soup mix, and, the worst, pot roast made with Harvey's Bristol
Cream Sherry. I have no idea where she came up with that one. During
diet-conscious times, we also suffered through "first cut" brisket
trimmed, as it is today, so closely that it always turned out stringy
and dry, mealy or hard. Near the end of her life, however, my mother
finally realized (with a little encouragement from her son) that
the essentials for a melt-in-the-mouth, juicy pot roast are the
tried and true and number only two: The whole brisket, fat and all,
no browning necessary. And a lot, alot of onions; about half the
meat's weight is a good rule of thumb.
I made the whole brisket exactly that way.
I cut in half the piece of first cut and cooked half of it that
way, too. The other half of the lean "first cut" I first browned
in a little vegetable oil on top of the stove in a very large skillet,
and instead of putting the onions in raw, I wilted them in the browning
skillet, which, at the same time, de-glazed the skillet.
The best of the three was unquestionably
the whole brisket. The browned first cut was juicier than the unbrowned
The big surprise of the experiment, however,
was that the whole brisket was absolute heaven the day it was made.
I had expected it to be even better, or at least just as good, when
reheated the next day. It wasn't. It's optimum moment was when it
came out of the oven after 4 hours at 350 degrees. Still, it was
excellent (and better than the others) on the second day, and easy
to slice neatly. Follow my slicing and reheating directions below.
Browning vs. not browning: If you insist
on very lean first cut only, or if you are cooking for such a small
number of people that a larger piece of meat becomes ridiculous
or unaffordable, by all means brown the meat first -- over medium
heat. A whole brisket is, for one thing, too large to brown in home-sized
pots on a home range.
On liquid: There is no need to add any
liquid, especially if you do not brown the meat first. The vegetables
and meat will produce an enormous amount of moisture as they cook.
Even the browned meat and onions produce enough moisture to create
some concentrated sauce. However, if you want a lot of sauce, add
about a half-cup of beef broth or red wine to the pan with the browned
piece of brisket.
For the 10-pound
piece of whole brisket, I followed these directions exactly. (Such
a sizable piece of meat should make at least 20 servings.)
1. Rub 1 chopped clove of garlic into each
side of the meat.
2. Salt and pepper the meat on both sides.
3. Spread the onions, carrots and celery
on the bottom of the pan. Put the meat over the vegetables. Put
2 bay leaves under the meat, 2 on top of the meat.
4. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum
foil and cook in a preheated 350-degree oven for 4 hours, until
meat is just tender.
5. Let meat rest 20 minutes, then slice:
Cut the second cut off of the first cut and trim off and discard
the layer of fat between them. Slice both cuts across the grain,
either straight down or at a slight diagonal angle. Skim any fat
off the juices left in the pan, and serve the onions and vegetables
with the juices as a sauce for both the meat and any starch accompaniment.
If desired, you can puree some of the vegetables to make a thicker
6. If preparing ahead for serving another
day, refrigerate until several hours before serving time. Skim hardened
fat off the surface of the liquid that has collected around the
meat, and off the surface of the meat. Allow the meat to come to
room temperature before final heating.
7. About an hour
before serving, using a long-bladed, preferably serrated knife (I
use a bread knife), slice the meat about 1/4-inch thick. It will
require a sawing motion and a strong arm. Do not disturb the conformation
of the meat. Return the meat to the roasting pan as if it was still
a whole brisket.
8. Baste with pan juices and heat, uncovered,
for 45 minutes to 1 hour, basting a few times during that period.
The surface of the meat should have browned nicely, and the slices
of meat should be heated through and fork tender. Trim excess fat
off the meat on the plate, as it is eaten.
9. Serving suggestion: Serve with kasha
(buckwheat groats): Follow the directions on the back of the box,
and top each helping with onions and juices from the pot roast.
Or prepare kasha varnishkes: cooked buckwheat groats tossed with
bow-tie macaroni and flavored with sauteed onions. Or serve with
mashed potatoes flavored with schmaltz (chicken fat) and, if available,
gribenes (the cracklings and blackened onions left from rendering
the chicken fat), also topped with pan juices and onions. A green
vegetable is up to you.