By Micky Burch, Contributing Editor
Much like Mrs. Bird on my all-time favorite television show Downton Abbey, I consider myself a plain cook, equipped with an education from generations of good cooks passed down from my family. I also consider myself lucky to have access to producer-direct beef, lamb, pork and chicken, and love having a deep freeze full of a variety of proteins.
One year, after judging the Alaska State Fair, my husband was sent home with a wide variety of wild fish and game, including salmon, halibut, Dall sheep, caribou, moose and several other unidentified items we threw on the grill. It was a treat and a first for us on many fronts.
This last year, I experienced a significantly less exotic cooking first: beef brisket. Having grown up on a cow-calf and yearling operation, we were spoiled with a constant supply of homegrown beef, processed at the local locker. But my parents must have always had the brisket ground up, because my mother, who to my knowledge isn’t one to shy away from a cooking challenge, never once made brisket.
As an adult, I adopted her general fear of the cut and have gone nearly 40 years avoiding it – until this year, when I mysteriously ended up with two briskets in my cherished deep freeze. I ignored them for quite some time, and seriously considered feeding them to the dogs and cats. I finally started studying them and found them to be quite offensive in general, not conforming to much in my small cooking arsenal. One day, I decided to cut them down into smaller pieces. That way, I figured, if I did decide to feed them to my family instead of our pets and screwed up cooking them it wouldn’t ruin the entire cut of meat.
Since I couldn’t call my mom to figure out what to do with a brisket (by the way – mom’s advice for all meat is to cook it at a low temperature for as long as possible), I did what any Generation X, Amazon-app-using mom of the day does: I Googled it. I searched for recipes with simple ingredients I either already had on hand or would use again, thinking there was a better possibility than not this would be a one-time project.
I found a recipe on dinnerthendessert.com for “Easy Brisket with Caramelized Onions.” I read the ingredient list and the instructions and felt comfortable enough in my cooking skills to adjust the recipe to fit my family; in this household, we simply aren’t onion eaters.
That’s not to say both my husband and I haven’t eaten more than our fair share of onions. We were raised in homes where we ate what was set in front of us and, as children, choked down many an onion. I just never fully understood why my mom added onions to recipes that didn’t call for them. She argued that you couldn’t taste them after they were cooked in the food. I debated that if you “supposedly” couldn’t taste them there was no point in putting them in perfectly good food to being with. Besides, even if I couldn’t taste them, I could feel them in my mouth.
My mother’s penchant for adding ingredients with undesirable tastes and textures goes so far as to plague her desserts. Countless bread puddings, otherwise wonderful cinnamon rolls and a sum no doubt approaching a million cookies have also been maimed by the unnecessary addition of raisins.
But I digress. “Easy Brisket with Caramelized Onions” turned “Easy Brisket” is, in fact, very easy. The recipe claims to be a perfect main course for weeknight dinners or holidays parties, with leftovers perfect for sandwiches. I can personally attest after making four “Easy Brisket” – sans the onions – that there were no leftovers. Consistent every time I made it, the meat literally fell apart, and everything but the “fat side up” was consumed via fork and fingers.
Pleased that I’d met a challenge head-on, I saved the smallest piece of brisket for my mom and gave her the recipe so she could make her own beef brisket for the very first time. No doubt she doubled the number of onions called for in the recipe.
Easy Brisket with Caramelized Onions
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 yellow onions, sliced
1 t. Kosher salt, divided
2 T. canola oil
4 lb. beef brisket
½ t. coarse ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
2 C. beef broth
Preheat oven or grill to 325 degrees. In a large cast iron skillet, melt butter on medium heat and add in the onions and ½ teaspoon Kosher salt. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently until they start to caramelize. Remove the onions from the pan and set aside. Add the canola oil and turn the heat up to medium-high. Season the brisket with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and the pepper. Brown on both sides for 3-5 minutes on each side. Remove the beef and add the garlic, Worcestershire sauce and beef broth. Stir well and add the brisket back, fat side up. Top with the onions and tent tightly with foil or a lid. Cook in the oven or on the grill for 3-4 hours.