This week and next, we'll be featuring the holiday food traditions of L.A. chefs. Today, Sotto's Zach Pollack tells us about his relationship with brisket.
“Growing up a reformed Jew in West Los Angeles, I developed a relationship with brisket around the same time that I developed a relationship with food, which is to say, when I was weaned from the jarred purees that sustain babies and began to eat what is today known simply as: food. My earliest memories of food are memories of brisket. Yet to say that I had a relationship with brisket at a young age is not to say I had an affection for it. It was more something we made — and ate — out of traditional obligation than something we legitimately enjoyed. Sure, some years it would be more dry and other years it would be less, but it was always, ALWAYS, dry.
“After years of cooking for a living, years in which, I hope, I improved my understanding of cuts of meat and techniques to prepare them, I decided to revisit the brisket of my youth. Perhaps it was, after all, a cut worthy of the great tradition it headlined. Months later, I came face to face with the brisket that, I can only imagine, all briskets aspire to be, the brisket that would legitimize the Jewish tradition, namely, the greatest brisket in the world.
“The most difficult part of this recipe is finding the right piece of meat. Do not buy a brisket that has already been trimmed of fat, and do not buy the “flat” cut of the brisket. The flat cut is the long, lean, lower portion of the meat and tends to dry out. Go either for the more marbled “point” cut or, if you're feeding a lot of people, buy the whole brisket. When it comes time to serve, just make sure the point cut portion ends up at your side of the table. Also, track down high quality beef. Brisket is already an inexpensive cut, so don't skimp on quality. I am generally skeptical of the superiority of domestic kobe (usually an angus cross), but in the case of brisket it really does make a difference. So splurge! I promise you'll be rewarded.
Zach Pollack's Holiday Brisket
From: Sotto's Zach Pollack
Serves: about 8-12
8-14 lbs. beef brisket
5 yellow onions, rough chopped
6 carrots, peeled and rough chopped
1 head celery, rough chopped
2 heads garlic, split crosswise
6 sprigs rosemary
3 bay leaves
4 branches thyme
2 T black peppercorns
1 T juniper berries
3 cups red wine
4 quarts homemade beef stock
salt and pepper, to taste
1. At least a day before you plan to serve the brisket, trim excess fat from the meat, taking care to leave at least a quarter inch-thick layer of the stuff. This fat cap will keep the brisket from drying out. Do not, under any circumstance, remove too much.
2. Place the trimmed fat in a medium saucepan with a quarter cup of water, and place in the oven at 150-200 degrees F, or as low a temperature as your oven can successfully maintain. Cook for 6 to 8 hours, strain the liquid (discard solids), and place over medium-low heat to boil out excess moisture. At the end of the process, you should be left with clean, clear, liquid beef fat. Let cool and refrigerate.
3. While your brisket fat is rendering, season the meat liberally on all sides with salt and pepper. Place in refrigerator, uncovered, for at least 24 hours and up to 72.
4. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Place a large, heavy-bottomed pot (preferably a braiser or dutch oven) over high heat. Add enough of the rendered fat to come about 1/3″ up the sides of the pan (be careful as any excess moisture will splatter). When the fat has melted and begins to smoke, add the brisket and sear on all sides. Remove and set aside.
5. Carefully pour off any excess grease, leaving just enough to come about 1/4″ up the sides of the pan. Lower the heat to medium, then add onion, carrot, and celery, and cook until brown. Add red wine, increase heat to high, and reduce by about a third.
6. Using cheesecloth and kitchen twine, tie the garlic, rosemary, bay, thyme, peppercorns, and juniper into a sachet and add to pot. Add the brisket, then pour in enough beef stock to cover the meat almost completely. Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover tightly (with a lid or aluminum foil, taking care to seal the pot as well as possible) and place in the oven. Depending on the size of the cut and on the actual temperature of your oven, the brisket may require anywhere from 8 to 12 hours to cook. Slide a metal skewer into the thickest part of the meat to check doneness. The skewer should slide in and out with consistent, minimal resistance. If you notice there is more resistance in the center of the meat than closer to the surface, the brisket is not yet ready.
7. When the brisket is done cooking, remove from oven and uncover. Letting the meat cool in its cooking liquid will take more time, but will mean for a moister product in the end, so be patient. Increase the oven temp to 450 degrees F.
8. When the brisket is cool enough to handle, remove from liquid and place in a roasting pan. Strain the cooking liquid and reduce by half. Discard the veg (or mash it up and mix with kibble for a special treat for your dog).
9. Roast the brisket in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Baste with reduced cooking liquid every 10 or so minutes for the first 20 minutes, then increase frequency. You should be basting the meat every 2 to 3 minutes in the final 10 minutes. When the surface of the brisket is an irresistible landscape of sizzling, slightly burnt peaks and glossy, jus-lacquered valleys, it's ready to serve.
10. Slice the meat AGAINST the grain into thick 1/2″ pieces and serve with a drizzle of the rich cooking liquid.
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