Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Moroccan take on brisket

Sliced and ready to serve
(For an improved, albeit slightly more labor-intensive version of this dish, see here.)

We had this as the main dish at our Rosh Hashanah dinner. We were going to have the standard Ashkenazi variety at my mother's the next night, and wanted something a bit different. It is adapted from a chicken recipe that appeared in the NY Times in early 2008. The original recipe may be found at . I have made it with chicken and beef, and beef is definitely the winner -- it cooks longer and there is more time for the spices to meld and develop.  You can make it with stew but a fatty brisket is best I think.

Moroccan-style brisket
  1. Make a spice mixture of 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1.5 teaspoons fine, freshly ground black pepper, 2 teaspoons ground ginger (fresh is very un-Moroccan), 1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cumin,  1.5 teaspoons of Aleppo or Kirmiz pepper, depending on your taste.  (Once I had some spice mix from Boite of cardamom, cumin and rose and added this as well.  Not too shabby. ) 
  2. Rub all but about a teaspoon of the spice mix into about 4-5 pounds of brisket .  (See below on the cut to use.) You can leave it overnight if you want, though I generally don't.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put 1 or 2 sliced onions in a roaster large enough to hold the meat and then some. Add 2 cloves sliced garlic, put the meat on top, and cover with 2 more sliced onions and 2 cloves sliced garlic. Sprinkle with the reserved spice mix. Add a bit more salt.
  4. Add 2 oranges, cut into eighths, about 30 pitted dates, and 6-10 carrots, peeled and cut into thirds. Tuck them in wherever they fit.
  5. Cover well (foil is ok), and put in the oven to bake for about an hour and a half.
  6. While the meat is cooking take about 1.5 pounds of merguez sausage (not the precooked kind), prick with a fork, cut into two inch lengths, and brown in a skillet.
  7. Set aside, pour out the fat, and deglaze with about 1 cup of orange juice.  A tablespoon of pomegranate molasses, if you like it, will add richness. Cook until reduced by around half.  
  8. Top the brisket with the merguez pieces, pour in the juice, cover and back for another 1.5 to 2 hours until the meat is tender.
  9. To serve, slice the meat across the grain on the bias. Place on a large deep platter and surround with dates, carrots, merguez and orange pieces. Taste the juices for salt and add a bit if necessary. If there are lots of juices and they are very thin, reduce them a bit, and pour over the meat. Garnish with a handful of toasted pine nuts.
  10. Serve with couscous to around 8 people.
This can be made in advance, but my preference is not to slice the meat until after you reheat it.

The meat:  Best for this is a nice fatty cut, like 2nd cut brisket or deckel.  I have made it with first cut brisket to my regret-- it is really too dry.  Your cardiologist will not approve, but how often do you eat brisket?  You might as well enjoy it.  If you can find beef cheeks, they would also probably work well in this recipe, though I have never cooked with them.  If it does end up dry, which may happen if you use a first cut, be particularly careful in the slicing.  Use a very long, very sharp carving knife, hold the meat down firmly with a large fork, and carve of thin (I am talking 1/8 inch here) about 20 degrees off the horizontal,  You will end up with large thin slices.  Topped with the juices, you will be able to pretend that they are not dry.

As a stew:  Use a comparable quantity of chuck cut into 1-2 inch pieces.  The ingredients are the same, but the order and cooking time are different.  Fry the sausage first and remove.  Brown the beef in the fat and remove.  Saute the onions (chopped instead of sliced) in the fat until light brown, add the garlic and saute another few minutes.   Add the spices and saute another few minutes to remove the raw aroma.  Deglaze with the orange pomegranate mixture, and return the beef and sausage to the pot.  Stir in the carrots and dates, and top with the oranges.  Bake about 2 hours until tender.  Taste about half way through for salt and add more if necessary.

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