One of the more interesting things about brisket is the “Costco effect” – the bigger your go, the better the price. You see partial points in the grocery store, things that look about the size of a badass steak, but you pay literally twice as much per kilogram for that as you do when you but the whole shebang. This is what we call good value.
The downside, of course, is the ol’ “what the hell do I do with all this meat” problem. Generally you want to cook brisket whole to take advantage of the natural flavoring that comes out of the connective tissue, but unless you happen to have 38 of your closest friends and neighbours over for dinner, it can be a little overwhelming. So how about something to do with half of a brisket? You can slice a full slab in half, cook half now and either freeze the second half for a future project or grind it up for the World’s Best Burger Blend.
So here we go. A simplified take on a very traditional Mexican beef preparation called machaca. Big rich beefy goodness tempered with cinnamon and coffee and ancho chilies. This version takes minimal effort, packs huge flavour, and makes the best damn tacos on the planet. If you can find the time, make this either the morning of your meal or the day before so you can let the meat cool in the liquid before you shred and serve it. Now keep reading and get ready to make some magic.
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This recipe has three steps: An application of a seriously bold rub to the meat, a very fast and very hot charcoal grilling, and a long slow braise. To make things easier, I’m dividing the supplies into two groups – one group for the beef and rub, and one group for the braising. You will also need a hot charcoal grill and a deep dutch oven or roasting pan large enough to take on a half slab of brisket.
For the beef and rub:
1/2 of a full beef brisket (this should go about 2.4 kg – 5 pounds or so for you old fogies)
1/2 cup of freshly ground coffee – a coarse grind works best
5 tablespoons of ancho chile powder (you can finely grind 2 whole dried ancho chilies if you can’t find the powder)
1/3 cup of coarse sea salt or rock salt.
For the braising:
one 750ml bottle of a big-flavoured fruity red wine
1 cup of red wine vinegar
2 cups of tomato juice
1 full head of chopped garlic
1 large white onion
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 sticks of cinnamon
2 bay leaves
juice of 2 large limes
Pull your brisket out of the fridge at least 2 hours before you start cooking – you want the meat to be close to room temperature. Mix the coffee, chile powder and salt, then rub the mix vigorously into the surface of the beef. You want to really work it in, and the salt should tear at the surface fibers of the meat. When you are done, the surface of the meat will be stained a dark brown. And if you did it right, so will your hands. Your meat should look this dark even before cooking.
Save any leftover rub – you will want to add it to the braising liquid.
When the meat has rested for the full two hours at room temperature, build a nice hot charcoal fire on your grill. You want the same heat that you would aim for to cook a really good thick steak, but make sure your pile of coals is big enough to account for the size of the brisket – you need to cover the whole area. While your charcoal is lighting and settling, preheat your oven to 300 degrees. And do yourself a favour here and check that your braising or roasting pan is big enough to hold the brisket and deep enough to cover it.
When the fire is ready grill the brisket for five minutes on each side. No moving or shuffling or flipping around here – the meat goes on the grill, lays still for five whole minutes, gets turned over for five minutes more, and comes off. Don’t miss with it – the dark brown crust that gets built here is crucial for the flavour. It will probably look like it is going up in flames, and the salt is going to crackle and pop like a mini fireworks show, but DON’T PANIC. Just leave it be. After the full five minutes per side pull it from the fire, let it rest for 15 minutes and then cut the brisket into 5 more-or-less equal pieces.
Add the chunks of meat to the your big pan and sprinkle with the pepper and any leftover coffee rub. Scatter the garlic over the meat. Pour over the wine, tomato juice, lime juice, and vinegar. Tuck the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves down into the liquid. Dump in the chopped onion, and then add enough water to just cover the pieces of meat.
Cover the pan – either with the lid or tightly sealed foil – and let it slow roast in the oven for four hours. Remove the pan from the oven and discard the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks. You can serve the meat immediately, but it is better to let it cool completely in the braising liquid before shredding it if you can.
Whichever way you go, shred some of the meat, toss it in a skillet with a small ladle of the braising juice, and give it a quick cook for a few minutes until the liquid thickens and mostly disapperas. Serve taco-style in soft tortillas with Mango Pico De Gallo, crumbed queso fresca (if you can get it) and either guacamole or guacamole cream.
If you are feeding less than a small mob you will probably have leftovers. To store the remainder, shred the beef and put it in heavy freezer bags or reusable freezer containers with a generous amount of the liquid. When it comes time to enjoy another feed, reheat the beef in a skillet with the juice exactly as you did when it was fresh.
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