PWI–Parenting While Intoxicated

…on good food, questionable judgment, and making life work

Be a Beef Hero

So, our  nuclear family holiday wound up being really quiet, low-key, and pleasant. No big gifts, no electronics, and hopefully I stunted a few expectations (I’m not trying to be cruel to my children, but for me, Christmas has become “Presents for No Reason” Day. We already have those–they’re called BIRTHDAYS.) Yeah, I’m that mom (and wife).

By contrast, our extended family gathering (on Christmas Eve) was pretty large, with a grand total of 21 people. My sister-in-law, who hosted this year, called me the Friday prior, and said that she was calling to recruit some help, and would I mind making a beef something. I’m always eager to help however I can, and frankly, I’m  honored that someone would ask me to cook something to bring. But then I started thinking about the logistics…

Whatever I chose would have to be cooked at my house and transported to the site. It would also need to feed 21 people.

At first, I thought short ribs would be perfect for such a meal and for such a large group. They are fairly inexpensive, not terribly difficult to prepare, easy to serve (no carving!) and actually taste better if done a day in advance. Two stores later, I realized I had a major sourcing problem. So, yeeeaaahhhh…

Back to the drawing board. Pot roast? Tasty, but not the most festive of dishes. Any of your oven roasts would be a transport nightmare, and no one wants to be responsible for destroying one or more standing rib roasts. And then…I saw it:

This is a packer brisket. Though not the actual brisket I prepared.

This is a packer brisket. Though not the actual brisket I prepared.

Brisket. Of course! It can feed a crowd, it’s inexpensive, it can be prepared in advance, and I’ve worked with it before! Genius!

Except…I’ve only worked with a packer brisket twice. And both times I made pastrami out of it. And as much as I like pastrami, it’s really not a holiday kind of dish.

But, as I so often do, I decided to forge on and make something I’ve never made before for a fairly discerning group of people. Why let your anxiety develop organically? Why not just jam some self-created anxiety up into your brainfolds?? Can housewifey home-cook types be adrenaline junkies? I think we all know the answer to that, and now I have some new stuff to talk about with my therapist…

Right. On the heels of writing about my deep-seated fear of things being a pain in the ass, now I have to figure out how to deal with this beast. It’s huge–14 lbs. So, I decided to remove the point from the flat, to make it easier to manage.  Just one problem: I’m not a butcher. But, I do have a pretty bitchin’ boning knife. Separating the two is not as easy as it may seem, especially if you are a novice (which I am.) But, I did the best I could, a little bit of the point remained on the flat, but honestly–it came out really well. No weirdness in slicing the finished product nor in the grain of the meat.

Once I got the pieces separated, I settled on braising the flat in much the same way I do short ribs, and on smoking the point on the grill. Because CHRISTMAS BBQ.

I honestly expected the smoked meat to be better received than the braised, but that was not the case at all. Hell, even I was surprised at how good the braised brisket was. Super tender, not at all dry, and the sauce? Oh dear Lord, the sauce…

If you should ever find yourself in the position of needing to feed a throng of people some tasty meats, be brave–be a BEEF HERO.

Here are the details of what I did:

You need to start this TWO DAYS before you plan to serve it.

1 14lb packer brisket, point removed from flat
Kosher salt, 1/2-3/4 tsp per pound (I used a total of 11 tsp)
4 tbs butter or olive oil
3 large onions, sliced
3 carrots, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
2 tbs tomato paste
freshly ground black pepper
1-2 cups red wine
3 bay leaves
1/4 tsp ground thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
2 heads garlic, peeled & left whole
4 dried shiitakes (or other dried mushroom)
4 prunes
Beef stock or beef base (homemade stock is best, if you don’t have it, use beef base and add water) or more wine
1 tbs olive oil, give or take a tsp

Salt both pieces of beef  (rub it in well) and wrap tightly in several layers of plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight (dry brining) for the flat, and 2 days for the point.

For the braised flat (I cooked this the day before I served it):

Preheat oven to 350.

1.  Heat a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling

brisket grill

Grillin’ on the holidays

2.  Heat butter or olive oil over medium heat in  a large skillet. Add onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, for 6-8 minutes. The onions won’t take on much color.

brisket onions

Tons of onions, with butter and olive oil

3.  Add carrots and celery, increase heat to medium high and cook, stirring often, for 6-7 minutes more.

The other aromatics

The other aromatics

4. Add tomato paste, mix it in thoroughly and cook for 2 minutes.

5.  Add the wine, and stir to remove any fond that has formed on the bottom of the pan. Reduce to a simmer, add the herbs, and allow to cook uncovered for 10 or so minutes.

6. While the wine braising liquid is simmering, sear your brisket on the grill–5-7 minutes per side–just enough to get it browned.

Seared brisket, could have been browner

Seared brisket, could have been browner, but it was cold outside and I didn’t have a beer in my hand

7. Place the seared roast in a roaster or large baking dish (I used a turkey roaster). Pour the braising liquid and vegetables over the top. Add the garlic, shiitakes, and plums, and mix them into the braising liquid.

brisket garlic etc

After you’ve added the garlic, prunes, and shiitakes, stir them into the braising liquid

8. Add enough stock, (or base mixed with water), or wine to bring liquid about 3/4 of the way up the meat.

9. Cook, covered, in 350 degree oven for 45 min to an hour, or until the liquid comes to a simmer. Then, reduce heat to 300, loosen cover ever so slightly and cook for another 4-6 hours, or until it is very tender, and registers 190° on an instant-read thermometer.

10. Remove the meat to a large board, (reserving the liquid and vegetables) and allow to cool, perhaps 30-45 minutes. Place in a baking dish (one that your fridge can accommodate), cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Out of the oven. You can totally see where I didn't get all of the point off. But it's going to be okay...

Out of the oven. You can totally see where I didn’t get all of the point off. But it’s going to be okay…

11. WARNING–this part is a pain in the ass, but totally worth it. While the meat cools, strain the solids from the liquids, reserving both. Set the liquid aside to cool, and run the solids through a food processor. Then, press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Place this mixture in a small saucepan with about 1 tbs of olive oil, stir to combine, and cook over medium heat, stirring often (a glass of wine or a cocktail helps with this process), until the mixture is a deep mahogany–this can take 20-30 minutes.

Aromatics, re-caramelized

Aromatics, re-caramelized

At this point, put everything in the fridge overnight. You deserve a break after all of that work.

12. About 3 hours before you are going to serve, preheat the oven to 350 and remove all of the hardened fat from the top of the braising liquid. In a medium saucepan, whisk the re-caramelized aromatics into the braising liquid and heat to a simmer. Put the cooked brisket back in your roasting pan. Pour the liquid over the brisket, and put the meat, covered, into the preheated oven for 1 1/2-2 hours, or until heated through. Let the meat rest 20-30 minutes before carving and serving. It is outstanding with a shot of horseradish.

The finished product. Totally worth the hassle.

The finished product. Totally worth the hassle.

And what happened to the brisket point? We smoked it.  On Christmas Eve morning (the morning after I braised the flat.)

Smoking the point

Smoking the point

No, I don’t have any pictures of the finished smoked point. The lighting wasn’t right.  The camera battery died. Lookit, I have three kids that I needed to get ready for a family holiday event. I count myself lucky that no one escaped the house in their jammies.

Here’s a quick run-down on how I did it:

1. Set up your grill for indirect grilling.

2. Soak a couple of handfuls of smoking chips, give ’em 30 minutes or so in the water.

3. When the coals are ready, put a handful of smoking chips directly on the coals. Rub some freshly ground black pepper on the meat–but no salt–you already salted it. Put the meat on the opposite side of the grill from the coals. Add additional smoking chips as the smoke fades, every 30-45 minutes or so.

4. Smoke for about 3 hours, until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 140°.

5. Wrap in a double layer of heavy duty foil, and return to the grill for another 3-4 hours, until the meat reaches 190°-200°.

Keep it in the foil until you are ready to serve. I sort of chopped/shredded it.

*A note on charcoal grill smoking: you will need to monitor your coals. I don’t use a grill thermometer, but I can count on needing to replenish the coals every two hours. To set up the initial fire, I use a chimney starter about 3/4 of the way full. To replenish, I only fill the chimney starter half way.


About MusicianMama

Erin is a mostly-SAHM. She hates paying for dishes which she herself can make, and considers creating delightful meals from leftovers a high art.

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