Brisket has become an unfortunate joke. Too often this staple of Hanukkah meals is tough, tasteless and gray.
But turning this culinary catastrophe into a winner is quite simple. When guests at my restaurant try my version of brisket, they are amazed that it is the same cut of meat that they grew up "not eating!" To make this recipe, it helps to have a smoker, but it isn't necessary. All you need is patience — it takes a long time to cook — and to buy the right cut of meat.
Not all brisket is the same. A good brisket will have two parts — the top "moist" point (also referred to as deckle) and the bottom "lean" flat. In the meat industry, this is called the packer's cut. The fat in the top moist point will keep the lean flat basted and juicy during the long cooking time.
When you buy a trimmed brisket (the moist point has been removed) braising is the only way to make it palatable. That and adding lots of flavorful ingredients, such as onion soup mix and stewed tomatoes.
It's much better to go with a whole, untrimmed brisket. You may need to order it from a butcher, but it's worth it.
When preparing brisket, don't trim off the fat cap. Roast it or smoke it whole with a simple seasoning of salt, coarsely ground black pepper and a pinch of cayenne — just enough to turn the rub a light pink. The beef itself is so full of flavor that less is more when it comes to the seasonings.
It is taking the time to cook it slowly that is the secret to making a great brisket. If a whole brisket seems too large for your family, buy the whole brisket and slice it in half vertically and freeze the other half for cooking later. This way, you will still have both parts of the brisket and the fat cap on both pieces of meat.
Better yet, cook the whole thing and freeze half of the cooked meat for sandwiches or an easy meal during the hectic holiday.
If you cook the whole brisket at a traditional roasting temperature of 325 degrees, or even 300, the fat will slowly melt and render out during the long cooking time, leaving rich beefy flavor behind. What fat is left should be translucent at the center and almost black and crispy on top.