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Braised Brisket with Thirty-Six Cloves of Garlic
Yield: About 8 servings
In my take on the French classic, chicken with forty cloves of garlic becomes brisket with thirty-six cloves. All that feisty garlic turns sweet and mellow with gentle braising; when pureed, it forms a seductive gravy, which is finished with a zing of chopped raw garlic and lemon zest.
Why thirty-six cloves? Beginning with aleph, which equals one, each letter of the Hebrew alphabet stands for a number, and so every word has a numerical value. All multiples of eighteen, the numerical value of the Hebrew word chai, life, are considered especially auspicious, which is why donations to charity and wedding and bar mitzvah gifts are often given in multiples of eighteen.
about 36 fat unpeeled garlic cloves (1 2/3 to 2 cups) or an equivalent amount of smaller cloves, plus 1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
A first- or second-cut beef brisket (about 5 pounds), trimmed of excess fat, wiped with a damp paper towel, and patted dry
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade or good-quality low-sodium purchased
3 or 4 fresh thyme sprigs, or 2 teaspoons dried leaves
2 fresh rosemary sprigs, plus 1 teaspoon chopped leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Drop the garlic cloves into a small saucepan of boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain immediately. Peel as soon as the garlic is cool enough to handle. Set aside on paper towels to dry.
Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed roasting pan or casserole large enough to accommodate the meat in one layer. Use two burners, if necessary. Add the brisket and brown well on both sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the brisket to a platter and set aside. (Or brown the meat under the broiler: place the brisket, fat side up, on a foil-lined broiler pan under a preheated broiler. Broil for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, until browned. Don’t allow it to develop a hard, dark crust, which might make the meat tough or bitter. Move the meat around as necessary, so it sears evenly.)
Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of fat remaining in the pan and add the garlic cloves. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic edges are tinged with gold. Add the vinegar and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon. Add the stock, thyme, and rosemary sprigs, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Salt and pepper the brisket to taste on all sides, and add it to the pan, fat side up. Spoon the garlic cloves over the meat.
Place the brisket in the oven, cover (if you have no lid, use heavy-duty foil), and cook, basting every half-hour, until the meat is fork tender, 2 ½ to 3 hours or longer. (As the meat cooks, periodically check that the liquid is bubbling gently. If it is boiling rapidly, turn the oven down to 300 degrees F.)
The brisket tastes best if it is allowed to rest, reabsorbing the juices lost during braising, and it’s easiest to defat the gravy if you prepare the meat ahead and refrigerate it until the fat solidifies. That is the method I use, given here, but the gravy can be prepared by skimming the fat in the traditional way, if you prefer. If you go that route though, do let the meat rest in the pan sauce for at least an hour.
Cool the brisket in the pan sauce, cover well with foil, and refrigerate until the fat congeals. Scrape off all solid fat. Remove the brisket from the pan and slice thinly across the grain.
Prepare the gravy: bring the braising mixture to room temperature, then strain it, reserving the garlic and discarding the thyme and rosemary sprigs. Skim and discard as much fat as possible from the liquid. Puree about one half of the cooked garlic with 1 cup of the defatted braising liquid in a food processor or a blender. (If you want a smooth gravy, puree all of the cooked garlic cloves.) Transfer the pureed mixture, the remaining braising liquid, and the rest of the cooked garlic to a skillet. Add the chopped rosemary, minced garlic, and lemon zest. Boil down the gravy over high heat, uncovered, to the desired consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Rewarm the brisket in the gravy until heated through.
Arrange the sliced brisket on a serving platter. Spoon some of the hot gravy all over the meat and pass the rest in a separate sauce boat.