Wednesday, March 24, 2010

beef brisket with merlot and prunes

beef brisket with merlot and prunes

I’ve a soft spot for humble meals made quietly, slowly, with nothing more than basic ingredients. Dishes that cook over slow heat for hours, particularly meat. Meat, that when you cut into it, slowly falls apart, so soft you hardly need to chew it. Meat that comes with a rich, thick sauce. Meals like this – I could eat on an almost-daily basis.

brisket. hello, gorgeous!

Sadly, I do not. Partly because I try to be thoughtful about meat consumption, partly because I work hours that don’t allow me, upon getting home, make a meal, that cooks over several hours (albeit, sort of happily cooks itself as time goes by) because that would mean, I would eat at midnight. Or later. And while I’ve fond memories of making and eating goulash at 1 am in college, college this is not, and somehow showing up for work late isn’t the same as skipping your 8am accounting class. The tardiness policy at work just isn’t very lenient.

brisket mise

Beef brisket is just one of those meals that if you’re spending a few hours at home puttering around, or expecting company for dinner, can be made with minimal effort and some glorious results. The concept is rather simple. You take a fatty slab of meat, brown it to lock in the flavor, brown the vegetables, and combine everything with something like wine, pomegranate molasses (with which I’ve been having a decade-long love affair!) and some dried fruit. In this case, the fruit of choice is prunes.

browning the brisketbrowning the brisket

Wait, come back! I know I just said prunes and I know they’re about as sexy as granny panties, but, please give them a chance. Cooked in stews, or slow-cooked in wine, sugar and spices, they transform themselves into something incredible lush and luxurious. I know, I just called prunes “luxurious”, when nothing could be more pedestrian. But, have I ever lied to you? Well then!

ready for cooking

I learned, pretty late in life, that brisket is sort of this traditional Jewish meal served during holidays or Shabbat meals. I didn’t grow up with it, so I felt it was my cultural duty to master the craft. Of course, I was cooking dinner with which I was hoping to impress, and I chose a dish that I’d never cooked before. Smart? I’d say not really. Was I a bit nervous? Absolutely. But everything came together without a hitch and the meat cooked perfectly and didn’t resemble pressed sawdust neither in looks nor in taste. If you’re looking for a centerpiece dish for Passover – look no further than this. And while it is always recommended that you do a practice run with a holiday meal beforehand, I’m pretty certain you will succeed with this one because the building blocks of a great dish are already included in the ingredients and the cooking process. If you cook it patiently and slowly, you will get a “humble” meal that will delicious and festive enough to be fit for a king.

Beef Brisket with Merlot and Prunes
Adapted very liberally from Bon Appetit
Serves 8

1 4-to 4 1/2-pound flat-cut (also called first-cut) beef brisket, trimmed of most fat
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
1 cup Merlot, or other full-bodied dry red wine
2 pounds onions, sliced
4 medium carrots, peeled, roughly chopped
1 lb fingerling potatoes
16 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 cups pitted large prunes (about 8 oz)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/3 cup pomegranate molasses
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tsp maple syrup or honey
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley


Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 325°F. Pat brisket dry; sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy extra-large dutch oven, or the cocotte, over high heat. Add brisket and cook until deep brown, about 7 minutes per side. Set the meat aside and brown the onions, carrots and potatoes for a few minutes. Pull them out of the cocotte and place the meat back in there. Add tomatoes with juice and wine to skillet. Distribute onions, carrots, potatoes and garlic around brisket. Add prunes and thyme; drizzle with pomegranate molasses, honey (or maple syrup) and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and place the cocotte in the oven and braise for about 3 hours 15 minutes.

Serve with the vegetables while hot, and garnished with parsley, or let rest for an hour and serve at room temperature.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with foil and chill. Bring just to simmer when reheating.

How to know the brisket is done? Try inserting a turkey lacer into the thickest part of the brisket. If it meets no resistance, your brisket is done.

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  • 1
    Dana said:

    The brisket looks amazing! Amazing enough that I’ll even forgo my hesitation over prunes, even though “they’re about as sexy as granny panties.”

    Hurray for more pomegranate molasses!

    March 24, 2010 9:50 am
  • 2
    Phoebe said:

    That looks so tasty. Do you think I could just throw it in the slow cooker after browning the vegetables and meat and it’d turn out about the same?

    March 24, 2010 9:56 am
  • 3
    Radish said:

    Phoebe – I’d think even BETTER – you can never go wrong with a slow-cooker. I still have yet to get mine. Maybe on my next kitchen splurge.

    March 24, 2010 10:16 am
  • 4

    My mouth is watering, big time. I’d love to sit down for a humble dinner at your house anytime. Simply beautiful!

    March 24, 2010 10:46 am
  • 5
    Angela said:

    Sounds wonderful. I’ve never really thought about prunes and beef together before. I’ll try this for sure.

    PS- I love your photography.

    March 24, 2010 1:06 pm
  • 6
    Arlene said:

    Why is it “plums” sounds sexy and “prunes” sounds like granny panties? Prunes are nothing more than dried plums. But about the recipe. Yum. Sexy. Can’t wait to try it. By the way, I made your almond cake last night and it was divine. Beautiful combination of citrus and almond.

    March 24, 2010 7:41 pm
  • 7
    Sheri said:

    Where do you find pomegranate molasses; never heard of it; have never seen it in the store?

    March 24, 2010 10:57 pm
  • 8
    Radish said:

    Sheri – depending on where you live – it should be available in middle eastern stores, or Russian delis for that matter. You can always do an online search for it – totally worth it, I promise!

    March 25, 2010 5:37 am
  • 9
    shayma said:

    beautiful. i love pomegranate molasses and never thought of pairing it with wine in a dish. everything here seems to be made for each other- the brisket, the prunes, the merlot- a beautiful combination. and gorgeous photos.

    March 25, 2010 6:00 am
  • 10

    Mmm…I think this is a recipe that cries out for the crock pot! I can imagine the wonderful smell as I walk in the door after work…

    March 25, 2010 8:16 am
  • 11

    As a fellow worker of long hours, have you thought about a crock pot? I know, I know, visions of cream of mushroom soup abound, but brisket is one of my favorite things to cook in the crockpot – for this I’d probably drain the tomatoes and cut the Merlot in half.

    March 25, 2010 11:58 am
  • 12
    Radish said:

    Kate – I have — it’s next on my list of kitchen indulgences. :) Cutting the tomatoes/wine in half makes sense if slow-cooker is your method.

    March 25, 2010 12:19 pm
  • 13

    I’m with you about the slow braises: the absolute best. But I also agree with Kate: the slow cooker. I introduced my Manhattan partner to one–and he’s never looked back. It’s nice to know us hicks can teach the callous sophisticates a thing or two!

    March 25, 2010 5:40 pm
  • 14
    Radish said:

    Mark — I know, I know. I NEED to get a slow-cooker. This fall, I promise!!

    March 26, 2010 7:18 am
  • 15
    diva said:

    I’ve not made brisket but I must at some point. It looks too delicious. And yes, slow cooked meats are simply the best. So rustic, easy and feel-good. Also great for sharing round the table. :) Delicious blog you have!

    March 26, 2010 8:04 am
  • 16
    Sprout said:

    This sounds like an incredibly sexy dish. Definitely not something you’d serve to somebody you feel
    so-so about.

    Thanks for sharing!

    March 27, 2010 3:11 pm
  • 17

    […] Soup with Matzo Balls Beef Brisket with Merlot and Prunes Almond Lemon Torte with Fresh Strawberry Puree Haroset Citrus Salad with Cilantro & Mint Wine […]

    March 28, 2010 8:07 pm
  • 18
    becky said:

    I’m wondering — would elk meat work with this recipe?

    March 31, 2010 10:59 pm
  • 19
    Radish said:

    Becky – I’m sure you’d get a great tasting dish. Not sure if it would be brisket, as I’m unfamiliar with elk cuts. I would try it and see!

    April 1, 2010 8:24 am
  • 20
    Darrel said:

    In your ingredients you mention using maple syrup, but in the directions there is nary a peep about it. Do you add it at the same time as the pomegranate molasses and vinegar?

    May 2, 2010 12:25 pm
  • 21
    Radish said:

    Darrel – thank you for pointing out and yes, that’s when you add it. I’ll change it now.

    May 3, 2010 12:54 pm
  • 22

    […] of cooking the usual suspects.  Just today I found recipes for raspberry greek yogurt smoothies, beef brisket with merlot and prunes, and coconut red lentil soup.  Totally random, totally not something you’d normally serve […]

    May 7, 2010 9:38 pm
  • 23
    Irina said:

    This looks great! I’m trying to convince my mother to make it for the upcoming holidays. I have a question about the pomegranate molasses: what does it look like (packaging). I’ve seen different pomegranate syrup-type products in Russian stores (with a green label?), but I’m not sure if that’s what you mean.

    September 4, 2010 2:42 pm
  • 24
    Radish said:

    Irina – they come in different brands/packaging colors, but I’ve seen the one you describe, so yes, you’ve got the right idea. Your mom should totally make this for the holidays! :)

    September 4, 2010 3:05 pm
  • 25
    Alana said:

    I just came across this recipe and am hoping to make it tonight. My Syrian father usually keeps me well stocked with pomegranate molasses but I just used the last of it. Any ideas on what I could substitute it with?

    December 2, 2010 10:48 am
  • 26
    Radish said:

    Alana – tough one, but I would use more red wine and a ton of prunes and dried apricots. In my head, when it cooks down it’ll be very close to what pomegranate molasses will cook down to. Good luck!

    December 2, 2010 10:50 am
  • 27
    Enid Pearlman said:

    Found your recipe for the Brisket with Pomegranite Molasses & Dried Fruit on Serious Eats. (Even with dedicated searching, can find no other mention of it anywhere). But, have a couple of questions:

    I) It seems to be similar to Levana Kirschenbaum’s Sweet and Sour Brisket (with which I have ahd marvelous results for the last two years. However it is minlus one item that has become a problem, soy sauce (we have a regular guest with allergies). My questions are, apple cider and apple cider vinegar? And is it really very important to use the unfiltered cider vinegar. Have so much going on, chasing around for unfiltered is something I would love to avoid. Second, I plan to make it a day or two in advance, and will reduce and slice the day of – – Do you see any problems with this? Hubby is looking forward to all those melted fruits. Sounds lovely!!!

    Thank you in advance for your guidance.

    March 28, 2011 12:41 am
  • 28
    Radish said:

    Enid – no need for unfiltered – I think it’s a better product to have overall, but not the end of the world if you have the regular stuff.

    March 28, 2011 8:23 am
  • 29
    Anna said:

    This looks pretty good. I think I will try it. What is a typical braising temperature? I am new to the wide world of cooking.

    April 21, 2011 12:50 pm
  • 30
    Radish said:

    Anna – good luck!! You braise at 325 typically. Or lower, if you like, but the it’ll take longer – so adjust the time accordingly.

    April 21, 2011 12:58 pm
  • 31

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    April 3, 2012 4:50 pm
  • 32
    heather said:

    this looks delish. what kind of veggie sidedishes would you think to serve this with? squash maybe?…or is that a legume? :)

    June 28, 2012 4:25 pm
  • 33
    Radish said:

    heather – most commonly i serve brisket with roasted potatoes and a stewed carrot dish called, Tsimmes. Squash can definitely work. Squash isn’t a legume, it’s a vegetable, but legumes (beans) will work as well.

    June 28, 2012 4:49 pm
  • 34

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    August 30, 2013 8:08 am
  • 35

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    August 25, 2014 8:52 pm
  • 36
    Lori said:

    Thank you for posting this recipe! I am cooking it in my pressure cooker as I type. It smells SO good. The typical time for pressure cooking brisket is 45-60 minutes. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

    September 7, 2014 4:04 pm

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