“Brisket…get one. Season it or don’t. Put it fat side up in a big ‘ol pan. Cover it with foil and cook it at 325 for an hour and then 275 for as long as it takes to soften up, somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 hours. Let it rest. Eat it.”
I’m not joking. That is all you need to do to have a pretty compelling meal.
Brisket is one of those cuts of meat that is just asking to be cooked to death in its own juices. Put simply, it is done when you can stick a fork into it and it just falls right in to the meat. If it doesn’t, throw it back in the oven and leave it alone for another hour.
It sounds rather low brow, but the fact is that science is at work here. This tough and surly cut of meat turns into silk if you give the fat sufficient time for the collagen to melt. Any moment before that, you are eating shoe leather. Any moment after that, you have a succulent dish. I’ll admit my grasp of meat science is not the stuff of legends, but I know this much…if you cook a brisket low and slow and don’t rush the process, you will be rewarded. All of this presumes of course that you can stand the verbal ass kicking you are going to get from your friends who think brisket cooked by any method other than smoking is a sin against nature. I’m sympathetic to that argument…but there is a time and a place for everything. My general appreciation for all things FOOD means that I don’t have many rules. If it tastes good, I eat it. And this is a favorite.
Brisket tacos are a huge thing in Dallas. Most of our Tex-Mex joints have a version of them. My runaway favorite is served at Mia’s on Lemmon Avenue. We have been eating there almost weekly for the last 8 years for two reasons. They have great brisket tacos, and they actually like children. Or at least they have an exceptional game face. Lily is 8 now, and I have vivid memories of setting her little infant self in her car seat on top of the vinyl table cloths at Mia’s for my first few precious meals out of the house after her arrival. The service is lightning fast, too, so if you are sitting there with a ticking time-bomb…I mean baby…you can actually manage a good meal before all hell breaks loose, as it is apt to do with the under 6 month set. There is a timing component, though. The happy kid scenario is dependent on showing up before 6. After 6 the line starts forming and all bets are off. Their brisket tacos are the best in town in my opinion. I believe that they roast their brisket over night with poblanos and onions and all sorts of magic. This is different. But it is pretty great, too.
Onward. This recipe for brisket tacos is just a starter. You will have enough meat for several days worth of meals unless you are feeding an army. Consider serving it on a bed of tortilla chips with black beans, sour cream and guacamole on night 2. On night 3, mix some spicy BBQ sauce in with the remaining meat and have chopped beef sandwiches and baked beans.
One 4 to 5 pound brisket (I used flat cut)
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon crushed black pepper
2 dried ancho chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 arbol chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 medium onion, quartered
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 dark beer (I used this beautiful Shiner beer)
cojita cheese or shredded jack cheese
Take the brisket out of the refrigerator while you prepare everything else. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the onions, and the ancho and arbol chiles. Pulse the onions and the chiles until they are chopped small. Add the oil and ¼ cup of beer. Process the mixture until it is nearly smooth.
Warning: The paste you just created is very spicy and pungent. When you open the lid of the processor, don’t stick your face right over the bowl or you will get an eye and nose full of hot surprise.
Place the brisket fat side down in a large roasting pan. Season it with half of the salt and pepper and then slather on half of the chile and onion mixture. Turn the brisket fat side up in the roasting pan and season the fat side with the remaining salt and pepper and slather it with the remaining chile and onion mixture. Pour the rest of the beer in around the meat. (Don’t pour it on top or you will rinse off the chiles and seasonings. Cover the roasting pan tightly with foil and place it in the oven. Roast at 325 for one hour and then reduce the heat to 275 for approximately 4 additional hours (or as long as it takes for the meat to “give.”)
Remove the brisket from the oven and allow it to rest, as is, for 30 minutes. Remove the brisket to a platter. Use a spatula to remove the layer of gelatinous fat on top of the brisket and discard it. Cut the brisket into manageable chunks and then use two forks to shred the meat.
Use a fat separator to remove the fat from the juices. Another way to accomplish this is to pour the juices into a strong re-sealable bag that is sitting upright in a big bowl. Pour the juices in, seal the bag and allow the juice to settle. The fat will rise to the top. You can then carefully snip off a small corner of the bag and pour the juices back into the roasting pan, squeezing off the flow of juices when you get to the fat. As I used my fat separator, I noticed that a lot of the peppers were floating right under the fat. Not wanting to discard these flavorful bits, I put a sieve on top of my separator to protect all the bits and then removed the fat with a spoon. In other words, the sieve pushes down the bits out of the fat and allowed me to spoon out fat without also spooning out the bits. You should do, obviously, whatever works best for you. If you are not eating the brisket until the following day, you can just put the shredded meat, liquid fat and all, into the fridge. The fat will gather at the top and solidify and you can just remove the waxy layer of fat before you reheat the brisket.
Return the juices and the meat to the roasting pan. You can serve it immediately or you can replace the foil top and keep the brisket warm in the oven.
To serve, allow each person to build their own tacos. Tortilla, meat, cheese, avocados, salsa…whatever floats your boat.
Another option is to fill the tortillas with brisket and some jack cheese, fold them over, and place the tacos on a nonstick griddle pan. Cook on both sides until the cheese is melted and is holding the tacos together nicely. Serve the avocados and condiments on the table. Don’t forget the chips.