Brisket is a little like meatloaf, in the sense that it’s a simple, unglamorous comfort food that everyone claims to have the best recipe for. The recipes all turn out to be pretty much the same, with minor variations, and they all lead to the same place: a hearty, gut-warming meal that will have you licking your plate at the end.
Brisket is a cut of beef that comes from the breast section. It’s relatively thin and relatively tough, which means that long, slow cooking is the best approach. Many people favor slow grilling for brisket with a crispy coating and smoky flavor. This time of year, however, we favor braising because it requires very little effort and warms our house up with a savory, meaty aroma. The magic of slow-cooking never ceases to amaze, as the transformation brisket undergoes from a relatively inexpensive cut of meat to a meal that literally melts in your mouth is truly astonishing. In an oven, this transformation takes place in about 2 1/2 hours for a two-pound cut of brisket. In a slow cooker on high heat, about twice that.
In addition to the long cooking time, there are a few other techniques that guarantee tender brisket. Look for a cut of brisket that has a nice layer of fat on the top; it keeps the meat moist and juicy while cooking and can always be trimmed away right before eating if it’s too fatty for your taste. You’ll also want to surround, but not totally immerse, the brisket in some sort of liquid as it cooks, which is what differentiates braising from roasting (no liquid) and stewing (more liquid). Broth, wine or a combination of the two, works well for this. Keep a lid on the brisket while it cooks and resist peeking in on it – at least for the first two hours.
Here’s our version of the “best” (or at least pretty darn good) braised brisket out there.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Season brisket with salt and pepper. Over medium-high heat, add oil to either a Dutch oven or a skillet. Brown the brisket on each side, 8-10 minutes total. Set the meat aside.
Turn heat down to medium. Add onions and celery to the same skillet and sauté until nicely browned, about 12 minutes. Add garlic and vinegar and scrape up any browned bits stuck to the pot. Add dried parsley, tomato and stock and bring to a simmer.
Return brisket to the Dutch oven, or transfer everything into an oven-proof dish that is large enough to hold the meat and vegetables. (You can also transfer the ingredients into a slow cooker at this point, instead of using the oven).
Braise in the oven, covered with a lid or tight foil, for 2 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender enough that it easily pulls apart with a fork.