Beef brisket braised in mead and pickled walnuts
This recipe asks for more protein than is possible to eat in one sitting for the prescribed number of people. This is definitely intentional: I love leftovers. Leftover brisket shredded into strands and tossed through a mustardy cabbage salad spiked with raw onion is a triumph. Sliced into thick chunks and placed into a warm roll with your favourite relish competes closely with leftover Christmas ham sandwiches for snack of the year.
The foundation flavours of this braised dish are mead, pickled walnuts and mustard. I have used brisket for the way its long, slow cooking gains a great depth of flavour.
Brisket is a favourite braising cut. Depending on the breed, it is usually well marbled and contains plenty of interconnective tissue, which transforms into a lovely gelatinous mass.
Don’t attempt this if you are in a rush, though. To do it justice you will need to give yourself plenty of time. The slower the better for this cut. Other secondary cuts can be used to replace the brisket. Chuck steak, for instance, is a worthy substitute.
Brisket is also the key to great slow-roast Texas barbecue. Cooked in a closed wood-fired barbecue it is transformed into a smoky tender mass that is arguably the signature dish of the American south. It can also be rubbed in spices and baked in a conventional oven, suspended over a pan of water.
Mead is a spiced wine, sweetened with honey, which adds complexity. Once the pickled walnuts and mustard are added to the final cooking, the sauce is complete.
Beef brisket braised in mead and pickled walnuts
– 4 tbsp grapeseed oil
– 2kg beef brisket, cleaned and trimmed
– 1 brown onion peeled, roughly chopped
– 1 head of garlic cut in half
– 1 carrot peeled and roughly chopped
– 1 leek washed and roughly chopped
– 1 stalk celery washed and roughly chopped
– 500ml honey mead
– 1 tbsp black peppercorns
– 10 pieces of allspice
– 2 pieces star anise
– 1 stick cinnamon
– ½ bunch thyme
– 2 bay leaves
– 20 native pepper berries
– 2 litres chicken stock
– 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
– 4 pickled walnuts
– 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
– 1 head of cauliflower
– 1 tbsp butter
– 4 sprigs of thyme
– salt to taste
Preheat your oven to 140ºC.
Heat a heavy cast-iron 30-centimetre casserole dish.
Add two tablespoons of grapeseed oil and sear the piece of brisket on all sides. Once coloured, remove from the pot and set aside.
In the same pot maintain the heat and roast all the chopped vegetables until well caramelised. Add the mead to the pot, using caution as the mead will steam and boil straight away.
Add all the spices and herbs and reduce on a high heat for five minutes.
Place the brisket back in the pot and cover with the chicken stock. If necessary top up with water to ensure the meat is fully covered with liquid.
Bring to a simmer and cover the surface of the liquid with baking paper. Place a tight-fitting heavy lid on the casserole and transfer to the oven.
The brisket will take four to five hours to cook. When it is ready it will be soft to touch but should still retain some fat and moisture. Let it cool down in the liquid for 30 minutes.
Strain off the stock from the casserole into another saucepan and reduce the stock by half – this will take about 20 minutes. Add the red wine vinegar, two pickled walnuts and the Dijon mustard. Whisk to break apart the walnuts and season with salt if needed. The sauce will have a balance of richness, sweetness and sourness.
Cut the brisket into nice-sized portions (about 150 grams each) and return to the finished sauce to warm through. Gently warm the beef, taking care not to boil the sauce, as it may dry out the meat.
For the cauliflower, trim any green leaves from the base and, using a large sharp knife, slice the cauliflower into whole slices from the top to the base about two-centimetres thick. It should resemble a vertical cross-section profile of the vegetable.
Heat a heavy frying pan and add two tablespoons of grapeseed oil. Once the oil is hot, add the cauliflower to the pan and cook on the stovetop until both sides are nicely coloured. Don’t have the pan too hot as it will burn the cauliflower.
Once you have caramelised the cauliflower, add the butter, thyme and salt, and finish cooking on a low heat. The cauliflower should retain its shape and be just tender in the centre of the base.
To serve, place the warm cauliflower in the centre of a plate. With a slotted spoon transfer the brisket to the plate, cut two slices of pickled walnut and place that on the dish, then spoon the warm sauce over the brisket.
2015 Fighting Gully Road sangiovese, Beechworth ($32)
– Mark Williamson, wine buyer for Cumulus Inc, Cumulus Up and the Builders Arms Hotel
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 10, 2017 as "Take the brisket". Subscribe here.