This week in the Willamette Valley, we’ve got blue skies and temperatures reaching upwards of 80 degrees. This is not a recipe for us. It is a recipe, instead, for people in the Midwest like my family, who are suffering rain and temps in the 40s. “Again with the winter?” they cry. So it’s long-cooked brisket one more time, before spring yawns and finally gets up out of bed.
The recipe is one I make whenever I get my hands on a brisket. Note that I don’t mean a corned-beef brisket, one of those marinated, spiced, plastic-wrapped dealies you get in bags around St. Patrick’s Day. It’s an uncorned, fresh brisket, tough as a gardener in Midwestern spring, meaty, with a big layer of fat, weighing in at about 5 lbs.
I saw a brisket on sale at Safeway for dirt cheap (and dirt quality — bah) and had planned to experiment with it. I’m longing to make my own corned beef. A quick look in a couple local stores yielded nothing but a problem, though. I couldn’t find the Morton’s Tender Quick (a mix of salt, sugar and nitrites) that one needs to add to corn the beef, so I’ve tabled that project for now. The brisket was destined to become cranberried.
The recipe comes from my mother-in-law, who made it at Passover one year, via Bon Appetit magazine. I’ve amended it a bit. It’s much, much better than any brisket recipe I’ve had, and it gets compliments every time it is served at such an occasion. You may use sweetened or unsweetened dried cranberries (I prefer unsweetened) and dried mushrooms to your taste. I prefer the already sliced dried Chinese shiitake mushrooms, but fresh portobello (use about 12 oz.) or shiitake are good, too. Don’t use button mushrooms, which are too watery and bland for this recipe.
Allow me to point out one technique before proceeding that can be used in all stews: double seasoning. If you add the seasonings prior to long cooking, the flavors will meld and form a complex gravy. Adding just a bit more of the predominant flavors about 30 minutes to the end of cooking punches those flavors up considerably. In this recipe, I add more wine and rosemary, for example.
Cranberry Brisket with Shiitake Mushrooms
Note: Brisket needs to rest in the refrigerator overnight. Please plan accordingly.
4-5 lbs. fresh beef brisket (NOT corned beef brisket)
2 medium white onions, chopped
3-4 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 c. full-flavored red wine (Cabernet is good), separated in half
1 c. cranberry juice or orange juice
1 c. beef stock or chicken stock or water
2 T. flour
2 bay leaves
3 T. fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1.5 T. dried), separated in half
1 c. dried cranberries
1/2 c. dried shiitake or Chinese mushrooms, reconstituted and sliced thinly.
Separate out the wine and rosemary. You’ll use half later. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Brown the brisket in a deep skillet over medium high heat in a couple tablespoons vegetable oil. Remove brisket and place in dutch oven, fat side up. Turn down the temperature to medium, then brown the onions in hot oil. When onions are golden brown and slightly caramelized, turn down the heat to medium low, add three or four garlic cloves, chopped, and the flour. This is called making a roux, a thickener, but in the very lazy way. Mix and cook for a few minutes, until the flour starts to change to a golden color. Don’t burn the roux.
Add the onion roux to the brisket to the dutch oven. Add 1 cup wine, stock, juice, bay leaves, 1.5 T. rosemary, and some freshly ground pepper.
Cover dutch oven and braise in the oven for about 3 hours.
When the brisket is soft and pliant, take out of the oven and add the cranberries, reconstituted mushrooms, and salt and pepper. Let brisket cool enough to handle.
Take the brisket out of the pot and slice it across the grain in long, thin slices. Note to brisket virgins: this is important. If you cut it in chunks or shred it, you will look like a caveman at a mastodon roast trying to eat it. It is only tender when you slice it across the grain.
Place the slices back in gravy and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. About 45 minutes before serving the next day, heat up brisket on medium low heat, adding a cup of wine and the rest of the rosemary. Adjust seasonings and simmer for 30-40 minutes. The flavor improves greatly the next day.
Serve with egg noodles, mashed or roasted potatoes.