Evanston-based poet and accomplished home cook Ori Fienberg (orifienberg.com) likes Hanukkah latkes just fine, but his feast food favorite is most definitely a beautiful beef brisket.
Fienberg, who calls cold weather “the braise days,” says his two best tips for making a perfect holiday brisket are, “One: Don’t fear the fond. (The brown bits that form on the bottom of the pot when you sear the meat and cook the onions.) And two: Make a lot of caramelized onions.”
Though it takes time, the rest is easy. Look for a very-well-marbled beef brisket with a nice fat cap. (One, 5-pound roast, or two, 2 . pound roasts will serve 6 to 8 people.) To get a really good sear on the roast, Fienberg first dry brines the beef for 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator, rubbing the meat with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, and setting it on a rack to allow air to circulate around it.
Seven hours before your dinner is to start, you’ll sear the brisket in vegetable oil in an enameled, cast-iron a Dutch oven, cook the onions until soft and caramelized, and deglaze the pot with red wine. Topped off with good beef stock you’ll then braise the meat in a 250-degree oven for 3 hours, adding chunks of carrot and parsnip for 2 to 2 1/2 more hours of cooking time. (For a little festive sweetness, throw in a handful of apricot and pitted prunes when you add the veg.)
During the long, slow braise, the onions will melt into the pot juices making a delicious gravy for the tender meat and vegetables. The result is a fragrant platterful of goodness. Happy Hanukkah!
• 1 very-well-marbled 5 lb. beef brisket with fat cap OR 2, very well-marbled 2 ó lb. beef briskets with fat caps
• 2 Tbsp kosher salt
• 1 Tbsp fresh-cracked black pepper
• 2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided
• 8 yellow onions, peeled, halved, and cut into 1/8-inch slices
• 1 cup dry red wine
• 1 cup good-quality beef stock (or as needed to reach half the way up the sides of the brisket in the pot)
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 1-2 to 2 lb. carrots
• 1 lb. parsnips
• 1/2 cup dried apricots (optional)
• 1/2 cup pitted prunes (optional)
• 5 to 6 fresh parsley sprigs as garnish
• Rub brisket(s) on all sides with kosher salt and fresh-cracked black pepper. Place on a rack in refrigerator allowing air to circulate around the meat for at least 24 hours and up to 2 days. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add 1 Tbsp of the vegetable oil. Once oil is hot, sear the beef, fat-cap down first, turning meat until seared and well-browned on all sides. Remove beef to a platter and set aside. Turn heat to low; add sliced onions and remaining Tbsp of oil. Cook, stirring occasionally until onions are very soft, deeply golden, and caramelized (about 20 minutes.) Deglaze the pot with 1 cup of red wine, scraping any browned bits (the fond) from the bottom of the pot to incorporate. Push onions to the sides of the pot; place the seared brisket (or nestle both briskets if preparing two 2 1/2 pound cuts) in the center. Mound caramelized onions over the beef. Add enough beef stock to the wine in the pot to reach halfway up the sides of the meat. Cover Dutch oven and place in preheated 250-degree oven for 3 hours. While the beef braises, peel carrots and parsnips.
• After the meat has braised for 3 hours, stir vegetables (and dried fruit if including) into the pot liquid. Cover and continue cooking for 2 to 2 ó hours until beef is very tender. Remove pot from oven.
• Transfer brisket(s) to a cutting board. Remove any excess fat. Slice brisket. Transfer all to a serving platter. Surround with cooked vegetables (and cooked fruit, if using.) Pour some of the pot juices over. Place remaining juices in a gravy boat. Garnish platter with parsley sprigs. Serve immediately.