Monday, November 22, 2010

Reinventing a Classic - Tomato Braised Brisket with Pickled Root Vegetables and Mashed Potatoes

I had a lot of fun with this week's project, and the concept is something that I hope to continue consciously pursuing.  My wife has a collection of recipes from her youth that she loves to have every once in a while.  Usually I am instructed to stay close to the original, and usually it follows a rule equivalent to "don't fuck with my mom's spaghetti sauce".  This is very difficult for me to adhere to, because I am constantly meddling and trying to see what happens when I change things up.  What's the fun in following a piece of paper to the T and not getting a chance to try something new?  So, that brings us to Grandma's (hereafter referred to as G-ma) brisket.  The story behind the recipe is that when my wife's Grandma was first married, she got this recipe from a Jewish neighbor in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill.  It has persisted over the years and is delicious in its own right.  We have made it before, but I thought that I could take the recipe as inspiration and really turn it into something great.  I don't have the full thing, but here is the old recipe (roughly):

G-ma's Brisket (Original):
1 can tomato soup
1 can water (tomato soup can)
1 green bell pepper (diced)
1 medium onion (diced)
1 carrot (diced)
3 lb brisket

Start by sauteeing the vegetables until translucent, transfer to a baking dish.  Salt/pepper and sear the brisket on all sides, transfer to baking dish, cover with liquid ingredients.  Cover baking dish and bake at 300 degrees for a few hours.  Serve with mashed potatoes.

It's total comfort food, and I really love comfort food, but I felt that there were a couple of things that could be improved to really make the dish fantastic.

1) Get rid of the green pepper.  It doesn't lend much flavor, and after a long braise it gets somewhat bitter.
2) Braising liquid could have more flavor.  My first thoughts were to just replace the water with chicken or beef stock, but I decided to go further than that with my recipe.
3) Find a way to develop more flavor and texture.  The sauce ends up being kind of one-note.  Could use some brighter flavors to match the rich sauce, and it could use some texture.

There are also things that I knew I needed to preserve:

1) Tomatoes.  No wine should be used.  It's not a pot roast, tomato needs to be the dominant flavor.
2) Basic techniques. Sauteeing aromatics / create braising liquid / long braise should be maintained to help stay true to the original.

So now I've set the rules and guidelines for myself.  Where could I go with this?  I remember watching Top Chef a couple of seasons when fellow beardo Kevin did a long braise where he actually braised the sauce with marrow bones - creating kind of a stock and sauce at the same time.  I was really intrigued by that and have been looking for an opportunity to try it out myself for quite a while now.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity to develop more flavors for my sauce.  As far as the texture and giving the dish more than one note, I thought some pickled root vegetables would be a great candidate for that.  I put some hot pepper in the pickle to give them just a touch of heat.  It's not really that similar to the green pepper but it's in the spirit of it, right?  They're both capsicums.  Whatever.

Pickled Root Vegetables
1 bunch baby turnips
1 carrot
1/2 bulb fennel
1 pepper - Thai chile or serrano (or maybe jalepeno if you're feeling less spicy)
Fennel fronds
2 c water
1 c white vinegar
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp salt

Brunoise vegetables into large-ish 1/2" cubes and place in 1 qt heat-proof container (mason jar ideally).  Heat water, vinegar, honey, and salt in saucepan until starting to simmer, turn off heat.  Pour hot liquid over vegetables and let cool to room temperature.  Heating the liquid will partially cook the root vegetables, making them less crunchy but still providing bite.  When the liquid has cooled, refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

mid pickle

Tomato Braised Brisket
3-4 lb brisket, excess fat removed
2 beef marrow bones
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
14 oz chicken stock
2 carrots, diced
1 large onion
1 head garlic, peeled and slightly crushed

Start by roasting the marrow bones in the oven at 400 degrees until browned.

Salt and pepper the brisket on all sides.  Slice the onions lengthwise, with the grain, to get long strips.  While the bones are roasting, heat some oil in an ovenproof dutch oven at med-hi heat.  Sear the brisket on all sides and set aside.  Turn the heat down to medium and add the onions, carrot, and garlic.  Saute until vegetables are caramelized, 20 minutes or so.

Not quite caramelized but getting there...

Remove the bones from the oven and turn the heat down to 350 degrees.  Add chicken stock and scrape the bottom of the pot to deglaze all the tasty bits.  Add the tomatoes and bones to the pot and bring the sauce to a simmer, skimming froth as the sauce heats up.  Let sauce reduce by about 1/4.  Place brisket fat side up on top of bones, cover, and place in oven. Bake for roughly 4 hours, checking every hour, flip once halfway through.

When brisket is done, remove to a cutting board and let it rest for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, we are going to remove the fat from the sauce.  Seperate the solids from the sauce by passing the sauce through a chinois.  Let the container with the sauce sit for a few minutes to allow the fat to seperate from the sauce.  The fat will sit on top of the sauce.  Try to spoon off as much of the fat as possible.  At this point, you have an option of what to do next.  You could return the solids and the sauce to the pan and let them all comingle, you could also discard the solids to leave a thinner sauce, or you could combine them and then blend the whole mess together to get a smoother thicker sauce.  I decided to leave the solids as-is because I wanted the onion strips (trying to stay true to the original recipe).  At this point you can also begin cutting the brisket.  G-ma's brisket is sliced, so I tried to slice it.  Even with my sharpest knife, this shit wants to shred like Reign in Blood era Kerry King, so I ended up only getting about half of the brisket to stay together in slices.  The rest was shredded.

Allegory for Kerry King pre-tattoos and shaved head.  Maybe it's more GWAR than anything with those bones in the background.  Distinct lack of stage blood though...

 Return the brisket to the pot with the sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Mashed Potatoes:
This is a straightforward mashed potatoes recipe, do yours however you like (everyone has a mashed potato recipe memorized, right?).  I used a stand mixer here because I wanted to them to have an ultra smooth consistency.
5-6 yukon gold potatoes
3/4 c cream
4 tbsp butter
Salt / Pepper

Dice potatoes and boil in salted water until soft, drain and add to stand mixer bowl.  Add cream, butter, salt, pepper and whip until smooth and awesome.

Plate by spooning some mashed potatoes onto plate / bowl and creating a little well in the middle of the potatoes.  Spoon brisket and sauce over the well.  Drain a spoonful of vegetables and add a little olive oil to them.  Place on top of the brisket with a fennel frond for prettiness and get down to business.

Appetite for destruction

In the end, my wife approved (most importantly), and I think that I stayed true to the spirit of the original recipe.  I was really happy with this dish and I can't wait to crush another plate of it tonight.  Second most importantly, we found a way to keep the best dog in the world pacified for more than 20 minutes.  If nothing else, this recipe will become a regular because it keeps Pickle occupied and gives us a break!

nom nom nom

1 comment:

  1. Holy sh!t that looks good. Love the idea of adding the pickled veggies in there. It's FINALLY getting enough of a chill in the air here in LA that comfort foods are sounding good.