There, we slow-smoke brisket over mesquite scraps on hot coals. Every county has its heroic smokehouse and hard-lined allegiances. For example, It’s not unheard of to drive 2 hours one way just for dinner. People talk about barbecue like they talk about football: if its bad they take it personal, and anyway they’ll talk your ear off. And of course, families have all got their own recipe. My dad swears his advantage lies in the mesquite that he harvests himself on his farm.
Here, though: no land, no mesquite, no smoker. No such luck. So instead I tucked the brisket into a bed of caramelized onions, sweet tomatoes, tangy dried cranberries and hot chilis, then I forgot about it while it stewed in its juices for the day. Later my nose started remembering that spicy, bright, syrupy sauce that you have to suck off your fingers cause its so good, and I thought this kind of brisket may not be such a settling after all. Especially when the leftovers get eaten between two slices of sesame bread with a couple sour pickles and some tearily-pungent raw onions: it tastes just like barbecue.
2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 tsp salt
7 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 dried red chilis, seeds and stems removed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 tsp black pepper
1/3 c dark brown sugar, packed well
1 (14.5 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes
1/4 c dried cranberries
1 (14.5 oz) can beef broth, or water
2.5 lb brisket, mostly trimmed of fat*
Preheat the oven to 250F.
Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven,* on medium heat on the stovetop. Add onions and salt and stir occasionally until the onions are slightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and chilis and cook for 2 more minutes, allowing the garlic to soften but not burn. Add the spices, frying them a bit in the oil until fragrant, about a minute. Add the sugar, tomatoes, cranberries and broth, and bring the mixture to a slow simmer.
Cook the brisket: Nestle the brisket into the chunky sauce, fattiest side up, spooning some of the softened vegetables on top. Cover tightly to make a seal and transfer to the 250F oven for 3-4 hours.* When it’s done, the meat will be easily torn with a fork and the internal temperature will be ~160F.
Rest the brisket: While the brisket is still hot, scrape any remaining fat deposits of the meat and discard. Transfer the pot to the fridge. The flavors are best if you can let it rest overnight, or at minimum 4 hours.
Prepare for eating: Preheat the oven to 300F. Take the brisket from the refrigerator and skim any solidified fat off the top of the sauce. Remove the brisket to a cutting board and slice into 1/2 inch strips across the meat’s grain. Using an immersion blender or a food processor, buzz the sauce until smooth. If you like it a bit chunkier or just don’t want to go to the trouble of an appliance, just smash the softened vegetables with the back of a spoon. If the sauce is too runny for your liking, put it on the stove and simmer until it reaches a consistency you like. Return the sliced brisket to the sauce and put in a 300F oven for half an hour.
*mostly trimmed of fat: Because the pot is sealed airtight with the braising liquid, the brisket doesn’t need the fat in order to stay moist. On the other hand, if you want the extra flavor, have the butcher leave the fat and wait until after it’s cooked to trim it.
*dutch oven: If you don’t have a dutch oven, you can use any heavy oven-proof pot with a lid. If it doesn’t seal airtight, cover the pot tightly with foil and then the lid. Check partway through the cooking time to make sure the braising liquid isn’t escaping and the brisket isn’t drying out. If it is, add more water. OR, you can use a slow cooker/electric crockpot. In that case, cook on low for 10 hours (leave it on overnight then finish the rest of the process the next day).
*oven for 3-4 hours: A good rule of thumb is about 1 hour to 1-1/2 hours for every pound of meat. I left my 2.5 lb guy in for 3 hrs 15 min.