Wine-braised Brisket with Tart Cherries

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I have to confess, I’ve been dying to start a home cooking blog for years, but I’m the sort of person who gets sucked into the idea of having no time to do anything. This is clearly a self-deception, as I just re-watched all of Lost (emphasis on “re”) in, well, less than a month. Lifehacker says there’s time. Brown bag lunches at work say there’s time. My Lost marathon says there’s time. So, goodbye, cherished excuse. I wish I could say I hardly knew ye, but you were basically my best friend.

So. After months of tinkering (apparently you can’t just throw up a cooking blog in five minutes like a freshman-year Livejournal) here’s my inaugural post. I thought I’d kick things off with a nod to my mother-in-law, one of those impossibly tiny women who looks fabulous because she only makes dishes like this one during the Jewish high holidays. This was a Passover 2012 revelation, though I find it works equally well in the dark days of February.

Until I adopted this recipe as my winter savior, I relied heavily on this 2010 boeuf aux carottes recipe from Serious Eats, which draws its special magic from burnished carrots and two handfuls of pearl onions. (I read in the New York Times cookbook that Amanda Hesser hates chopping parsley; I hate peeling pearl onions.) You won’t escape paper-thin skins here, but shallots are easier to work with than their finicky cousins, and this brisket outpaces the boeuf dish in complexity of flavor.

I don’t always adhere to the suggested wine in something like a braise, but the pinot noir is essential with the dried tart cherries, and helps to balance out the earthiness of the beef, sweetness of the carrots, and sour note from the balsamic vinegar. (I rarely think to add acid where it’s not expected, but it makes all the difference here.)

This version of the recipe maintains the braising liquid proportions of the original from Gourmet, but the amount of brisket has been halved. (You won’t starve with 4 lbs of  meat, and it fits nicely in a Dutch oven, with the fatty layer just peeping over the juices.) I’ve also skipped the fussy process of dredging the brisket in matzoh meal before searing. Best to spend your time doing other things, like drinking the leftover wine while you peel those damn shallots.

(Here’s a mediocre photo I took after I followed my own advice. You’re welcome!)

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Wine-braised Brisket with Tart Cherries

Adapted from Gourmet

Makes about 6 servings

1 4-lb beef brisket
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Oil for searing
8-10 medium shallots, peeled and left whole, with root ends intact
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups Pinot Noir
2 cups beef broth (homemade if you have it; Kitchen Basics in a pinch)
4 oz of dried tart cherries
2/3 c. dark brown sugar
2/3 c. balsamic vinegar
2 whole star anise (I like the taste of licorice, so I added 2 more )
1 lb of slim carrots in bunches

Egg noodles

Heat oven to 350°F.

On stove top, heat a few tablespoons of oil (I use olive oil) in a 5-7 qt Dutch oven over high heat. (Don’t be shy; you want to get a good sear on this brisket.) The oil should just coat the bottom.

When the oil shimmers, lay the brisket in the pot, fat-side down. Sear until you get a nice crust, about 3-5 minutes on each side. Remove from p0t to a waiting plate.

Reduce heat to medium, and if necessary, add a little more oil. Cook shallots for 2-3 minutes until they’re golden brown, turning occasionally. Add garlic and stir constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add wine and bring to a boil, scraping all the burny meaty bits from the bottom of the pot. When the wine has reduced a little, stir in beef stock, cherries, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, star anise, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a simmer and return brisket, fat side up, to pan. Cover with the lid barely crooked, and braise in the oven for 2 hours.

Meanwhile, blanch peeled carrots in well-salted boiling water for about 2-3 minutes, depending on how thick your carrots are. Drain and either rinse under cold running water, or transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking.

After meat has braised for 2 hours, add carrots to pot, then cover again, and continue to braise  until brisket falls away when you test it with a fork, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours more.

Like all braises, this serves up well the next day. But if you’re serving soon, transfer meat to a large cutting board and slice it across the grain in about 1/4-in thick slices. Skim any excess fat from surface of the sauce, and discard star anise. Adjust seasonings if you need to, reheat the sauce, and return the meat to the pot.

If saving, leave brisket whole and let it cool in the sauce uncovered, then chill, covered. When you’re ready to serve (in 1-3 days), discard the solidified fat and slice the brisket across the grain while it’s cold. Reheat gently on the stove top.

Serve over wide egg noodles cooked according to the package’s directions. You’ll want them to soak up the broth.

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