Lately we have been on a BBQ quest. We are trying as many BBQ joints as we can, in search of the perfect meat. Bill is looking for ribs and I am in search of brisket. Usually he is happy and I am disappointed. But last night it switched, and I had terrific brisket.
I am always surprised that brisket is not better, because it’s not that hard. I think, perhaps, on a BBQ menu, brisket is an afterthought. Most people seem to go BBQing for the boney pork products (BTW, a great name for a band. You’re welcome.) But I prefer beefy chest to piggy ribs. Maybe it’s the lady in me, preferring to eat with utensils. (Nah—who am I kidding– if I have the choice to eat at the table or over the sink, I choose sink.)
The key to a good brisket is braising, and the key to a good braise is a cheap piece of meat with lots of fat and connective tissue paired with a long, low, slow cooking time. Don’t rush it, or you’ll be disappointed
This recipe is quite good, although it sounds weird. It works because it cuts the richness of the typical brisket. The bitterness of the dark coffee paired with acidic tomatoes and vinegar tone down all that fat and nicely compliment the beefiness.
2 or 3 lbs. beef brisket
8 cloves garlic
4 slices bacon, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery
1 (16-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup cider vinegar
4 cups strong black coffee
2 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
The evergreen bay, or laurel, tree is native to the Mediterranean but thrives wherever the climate is similar. About 3 inches long, thick and shiny, the leaves are used dry or fresh with meats, fish, vegetables, stews, soups, pâtés, marinades, and fruits. The subtle pine-camphor aroma is slightly bitter when fresh but takes on a sweetness as it dries.
Indian Bay, also known as cinnamon leaf, has a decidedly cinnamon flavor. It’s used extensively in kormas and curries. California Bay is a more potent, mentholated variety, and is best when not overcooked. Indonesian Bay is actually in the myrtle family and has the subtle essence of anise.
Common bay leaves are available dried at most markets. Looking for specific Turkish or California bay may require a trip online (savoryspiceshop.com). You can find Indian Bay at Indian markets, but Indonesian is a little trickier to find, unless you live near an Indonesian community.
Many people prefer to remove the bay leaves from a dish before serving, but I like the look of them. Since they don’t hurt and won’t make anyone ill, I leave them in for beauty and aroma. People can eat around them.