Brisket has become an unfortunate joke. Too often this staple of Hanukkah meals is tough, tasteless and gray.
But turning this culinary catastrophe into a winner is quite simple. When guests at my restaurant try my version of brisket, they are amazed that it is the same cut of meat that they grew up "not eating!" To make this recipe, it helps to have a smoker, but it isn't necessary. All you need is patience (it takes a long time to cook) and to buy the right cut of meat.
And not all brisket is the same. A good brisket will have two parts — the top "moist" point (also referred to as deckle) and the bottom "lean" flat. In the meat industry, this is called the packer's cut. The fat in the top moist point will keep the lean flat basted and juicy during the long cooking time.
When you buy a trimmed brisket (the moist point has been removed) braising is the only way to make it palatable. That and adding lots of flavorful ingredients, such as onion soup mix and stewed tomatoes.
It's much better to go with a whole, untrimmed brisket. You may need to order it from a butcher, but it is so worth it.
When preparing brisket, I don't trim off any of the fat cap. I roast it or smoke it whole with a simple seasoning of salt, coarsely ground black pepper and a pinch of cayenne — just enough to turn the rub a light pink. The beef itself is so full of flavor that less is more when it comes to the seasonings.
It is taking the time to cook it slowly that is the secret to making a great brisket. If a whole brisket seems too large for your family, buy the whole brisket and slice it in half vertically and freeze the other half for cooking later. This way, you will still have both parts of the brisket and the fat cap on both pieces of meat.
Better yet, cook the whole thing and freeze half of the cooked meat for sandwiches or an easy meal during the hectic holiday.
If you cook the whole brisket at a traditional roasting temperature of 325 F or even 300 F, the fat will slowly melt and render out during the long cooking time, leaving rich beefy flavor behind. What fat is left should be translucent at the center and almost black and crispy on the top.
That is the most coveted part of the brisket on the barbecue circuit, otherwise known as burnt ends. When made right, it is one of the best things I have ever tasted!
BEER AND BLACK PEPPER HOLIDAY BRISKET
The key to roasting brisket in the oven is to place the seasoned brisket on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. This elevates the brisket and allows the air to circulate around the meat, much like it does in a grill or a smoker. This also allows it to roast and crisp up everywhere, melting the muscle and the fat and leaving flavor and tenderness in the meat.
Start to finish: 4 to 6 hours (depending on thickness), 10 minutes active
1?2 cup kosher salt
3 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
9- to 11-pound whole beef brisket, untrimmed
Four to six 12-ounce bottles beer
Heat the oven to 325 F. Set a metal rack over a rimmed baking sheet.
To prepare the rub, in a small bowl mix the salt, pepper and cayenne. Sprinkle the mixture over all sides of the brisket.
Pour 1 beer into a loaf pan and set on the oven's bottom rack.
Place the brisket, fat side up, on the prepared rack. Roast on the oven's center rack for 4 to 6 hours, adding an additional beer to the loaf pan every hour. Cook until the meat reaches 185 F at the center. Remove the brisket from the oven and let rest at least 20 minutes. Thinly slice to serve.
The brisket also can also be made the day before, then reheated on the same rack and sheet pan system, covered loosely with foil for a couple of hours at 250 F. Remember to let the meat rest again before slicing.
And when slicing, be aware that the grain of the brisket changes. Look at the grain of the meat and make sure to slice against it. If the slices look like a small honeycomb pattern, you are slicing it correctly. If it looks like long strings, it is incorrect.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 800 calories; 610 calories from fat (78 percent of total calories); 68 g fat (27 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 185 mg cholesterol; 1 g carbohydrate; 43 g protein; 0 g fiber; 1,600 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in NewYork and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."