There’s something infinitely wonderful about slow-cooked food at this time of year. Over the weekend, when time is precious; food you can simply leave in the oven all day is a true delight! When you return home, a richly delicious smell is ready to greet you at the door, and dinner is all but ready! What could be easier or more convenient than that?
Some cuts of meat are more suited to slow-cooking than others. Brisket is the perfect cut of beef for such a treatment. Rather interestingly, cows do not not have collar-bones. This means that their entire front-body weight (and they’re heavy!!!) is carried by their chest muscles. Brisket is one of these ‘pectorals’, and as a consequence, it’s entirely built for strength. The muscle contains a high proportion of collagen, making it incredibly tough if cooked quickly. The fibres need to slowly break down over a long period of time. When achieved, the meat is unctuously delicious and practically dissolves under the fork with the merest pressure. Time is all it needs; therefore let the cooker do the work, so you don’t have to! You could even cook this overnight, to reheat the next day – few dishes are this flexible; so enjoy that flexibility where you can!
I’ve teamed this with Alsation cabbage. “What is that?” I hear you ask… Alsace’s history is a curious mix of sometimes German, and sometimes French occupational rule. The food is a delicious yet peculiar mix of flavours; part Anglo Saxon & part Roman. A number of Alsation dishes take advantage of this crossover, in championing the surprisingly sublime taste-combination of bacon, garlic, cream and cumin in their preparation. This mix is warm, rustic, earthy and delicious; I for one certainly can’t get enough of it! I strongly urge you to give at a go; you won’t regret it!
The only carbohydrate here is the 1.5g of cellular net carbs contained within the savoy cabbage. This low level makes it a wonderful dish to serve to those on a ketogenic diet, but it’s equally fitting if you’re gluten-intolerant, are following a paleo-plan, or just simply want a break from ‘the bloat’. In summary then, it’s simple, fuss-free and nutritious. So give it a go!
Start with the beef. Bring this up to room-temperature and season well on all sides. Place a heavy-based casserole onto the hob and spoon in a little butter and oil to heat through. Then lower in your brisket-joint, enjoying the sizzle as the meat hits the pan.
Seal and brown the beef on all sides, then tumble in a chopped onion and a bit of leek if you have it, for good measure! Whilst these are sautéing, spear a garlic-clove with a cocktail-stick and rest this on top of the vegetables. The reason for this is that you can then simply lift it straight out afterwards. It then provides a beautiful, soft mellow infused garlic flavour to the dish, which is utterly sublime in every way! The subtle background perfume of bay also goes beautifully with beef, so add a couple of bay-leaves, then deglaze the pan with a generous glug of port or red-wine.
Add sufficient water to at least three quarters cover the beef, then crumble in a stock-cube for a little warmth of flavour. Place the pan into a low-oven to cook for at least four hours. Whether you place a lid on the pan depends on the heat-source you’re using. Fan-ovens tend to dry-cook food, evaporating the liquid, which can result in ‘dry’ or tough meat. If you’re using one of these, I’d advise putting a lid on the pan to prevent moisture loss. If you’re cooking on gas or an aga, you’ll be fine to leave the dish uncovered to maximum 140ºc.
I left the beef in the oven for 8 hours. Upon returning home, the liquid had only reduced by an inch and the meat was sublimely tender. The top had developed a glossy crust; which locks all the juices into the meat, preventing them from evaporating upwards during cooking. When ready, remove the speared garlic, drain off all but a half-centimetre of the liquid and return the pan to the low oven with the lid off to crisp the top even further.
To make the cabbage, place a second casserole onto the hob and melt in a little butter and oil. Add some finely chopped bacon (or lardons if you have them) then finely slice an onion. Sauté this alongside the bacon for a couple of minutes, before crushing in a generous clove of garlic or two. Now add an enthusiastic teaspoon of cumin and a small shake of paprika. The smell should be savoury and delicious; mouthwatering in every way! Then glug in a glassful of vermouth or white wine to deglaze the pan. The kitchen will witness few more enchanting aromas than this!
Whilst the liquid is bubbling away, finely slice and rinse your cabbage. Add this to the pan, retaining any water which remains on the leaves after rinsing. Sauté for a couple of minutes, then crumble in a chicken stock-cube to perk up the flavour. If you need to add a little more water, do so by all means. We want the cabbage to be waist-deep in liquid. Sprinkle in some dried herbs (sage, oregano or thyme are wonderful) then place a lid on the pan to simmer for ten minutes, allowing the cabbage to soften before you reduce the liquid.
When the 10 minutes are up, take the lid off the pan and taste to adjust the seasoning. Give the pan a good stir, then leave the lid off to allow the moisture to evaporate. At this point, take your beef out of the oven to rest until the stock has all but reduced from the vegetables.
Finally, stir a swirl of double-cream around the cabbage and remove from the heat. Transfer both the beef and the vegetables to your serving plate, then finely slice or grate some nutty emmental or other ‘mild’ cheese into thin strips. Sprinkle these all over the savoy, then if you’re feeling indulgent (and I was), you can also tumble on some brie or other soft-rinded cheese to add richness. This is by no means essential, so I leave the choice entirely up to you!
Garnish the lot with a drizzle of the delicious pan-juices and a final flourish of chopped herbs. When you dig in with a knife, the beef will literally collapse into tender, soft chunks. The cabbage will be earthly and aromatic in flavour, providing just the right level of bite to compliment the melt-in-the-mouth consistency of the beef . Few dishes can be so perfectly balanced or more delicious than this! – it’ll be well worth the wait!
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Thanks for reading and bon ap!
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