Onion-Braised Beef Brisket
This recipe was recently featured in Food 52’s Genius Recipes column. It comes from Nach Waxman, owner of the New York City cookbook shop, Kitchen Arts & Letters, and was originally published in The Silver Palette New Basics Cookbook in 1989. Apparently, it is the world’s most Googled brisket recipe and, since I love a good brisket, I had to try it. Three delicious brisket dinners later, I can tell you that the recipe lives up to the hype. It’s surprisingly simple: unlike all other briskets I’ve made, there’s no wine, stock or bottled sauces added. Instead, the brisket is cooked on top of a massive heap of onions, which slowly caramelize and release their juices, making a flavorful French onion soup-like braising liquid all their own.
Brisket is easy to make, but it’s a tough cut of meat that needs to cook for a long time. The most important tip I can give you is to ask your butcher for a well-marbled brisket with a thin layer of fat on top. The fat bastes the meat as it cooks, ensuring the meat becomes nice and tender. It’s also best to make brisket a day ahead of time, so the meat has time to reabsorb some of the braising liquid.
Begin by seasoning the meat with lots of kosher salt and pepper.
Dust both sides with flour.
Heat the oil in a heavy flameproof roasting pan or ovenproof enameled cast iron pot until shimmering, then sear the brisket on both sides until brown and crusty in spots.
Transfer the meat to a platter, then add the onions to the pan.
Cook, stirring and scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until softened and golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Place the brisket back in the pan on top of the onions and spread the tomato paste on top. Scatter the carrots and garlic around the edges.
Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil or a lid, and bake for 1-1/2 hours.
Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the brisket to a cutting board. Using an electric or sharp knife, slice the beef into 1/8-inch thick slices against the grain. It’s much easier to cut at this point than it is at the end.
Place the slices back in the pan on an angle, so that the top edge of each slice is showing. Baste the meat with the pan juices.
Cook for a few more hours, basting a few times, until the meat is tender. You can serve it right away, but it’s better to refrigerate it overnight and reheat the next day. It also freezes well.
Note: After making this brisket several times, I made a few minor changes to the recipe (for the original recipe, click here). For example, Waxman only uses one carrot in his recipe, but I call for six — I don’t mind the slight sweetness they impart (he does) and I like the idea of cooking vegetables along with the meat (that’s one less thing I have to do later!). I also added a bit of water to the recipe to help deglaze the pan while cooking the onions (I found it necessary to release all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and prevent them from burning).
Onion-Braised Beef Brisket
- 1 5-6 pound first cut (a.k.a. flat cut) beef brisket, trimmed so a thin layer of fat remains in some spots (do not over-trim!)
- 1 heaping tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1-1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 8 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cloves garlic
- 6 carrots, peeled and halved
- Handful fresh chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
- Set an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Season the brisket on both sides with salt and pepper. Lightly dust the brisket with the flour, then shake and turn to coat evenly. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy flameproof roasting pan or ovenproof enameled cast-iron pot just large enough to hold the brisket and carrots snugly. Add the brisket to the pan and sear on both sides until crusty brown areas appear on the surface here and there, 5 to 7 minutes per side.
- Transfer the brisket to a platter, then add the onions to the pot and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Cook until the onions are softened and golden brown, about 15 minutes. (If browned bits stick to the bottom of the pan and start to burn, add a few tablespoons of water and scrape with a wooden spoon to release them.)
- Turn off the heat and place the brisket, fatty side up, and any accumulated juices on top of the onions. Spread the tomato paste evenly over the brisket, then scatter the garlic and carrots around the edges of the pot. Cover the pot very tightly with aluminum foil (preferably heavy duty or two layers) or a lid, then transfer to the oven and cook for 1-1/2 hours.
- Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and, using an electric or very sharp knife, slice the meat across the grain into approximately 1/8-inch-thick slices. Return the slices to the pot, overlapping them at an angle so that you can see a bit of the top edge of each slice. The end result should resemble the original unsliced brisket leaning slightly backward. Check the seasonings and correct if necessary. If the sauce appears dry, add 2 to 3 teaspoons of water to the pot. Cover the pot tightly and return to the oven.
- Lower the heat to 325°F and cook the brisket until it is fork-tender, 1-3/4 to 2-1/2 hours, or longer if necessary. Check once or twice during cooking to make sure that the liquid is not bubbling away. If it is, add a few more teaspoons of water—but not more. Also, each time you check, spoon some of the liquid on top of the roast so that it drips down between the slices. It is ready to serve with its juices, but, in fact, it's even better the second day. It also freezes well.
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