Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Want Some Coffee With That?

Thumbing through John Ash's Cooking One on One, the Texan and I both said, "Oooooh!" when we turned to the page with a recipe for brisket braised in coffee.  Neither one of us knew exactly who John Ash was, but we figured he knew what he was talking about with that recipe, which combines two Really Good Things.

Wouldn't you know it that John Ash has had a restaurant and a radio show here in northern California for a few years. Or 30. He does the whole fresh/local/seasonal thing a la Alice Waters, only in Santa Rosa, and his dishes are created to match the wines being made in that region. He also does a few other things. Like teach at the culinary academy in the Napa Valley. Whatever.

Wouldn't you also know it that the Texan and I have somewhat different definitions of brisket. His version involves a barbeque and slicing the beef. Mine involves simmering in a Dutch oven for hours on end, a tomato-y braising sauce, and meat that just falls apart when it's done. So imagine his surprise when I spend all day simmering the meat, he spends all day thinking about the barbecued flesh he's about to eat, and he sits down to a meal that has no slices in sight. Poor thing.

With The Texan's homemade bread and some sauteed vegetables with toasted pecans.

Whatever our differences, we agreed that a) the meat was ridiculously tender and flavorful; b) we couldn't really taste the coffee, but perhaps its job was simply to tenderize, not to flavor-ize;  c) there is more than one way to cook brisket. In fact, the Texan liked it enough to want it for dinner the following evening, as we were getting ready to go up to our local observatory for a meteor shower. There was just one small problem:

I'm the blue. He's the white.

His surprise was not due to my having eaten the brisket for another meal. His surprise was due to the cut of meat I used WEIGHING TWO POUNDS and there being so little left that it wouldn't satiate him for dinner. As in, "Where the %@*# did you put it? Your hollow leg? Or are you now thirty pounds heavier?"

He swears he would love me at any weight. To which my response is, "Really???"

Brisket Braised in Coffee
adapted from Cooking One on One by John Ash
serves 6-8
(I cut the recipe in half)

4 lbs beef brisket, trimmed of excess fat
4 TBSP olive oil
3 yellow onions (1 1/2 lbs total), sliced
1/4 C sliced garlic
2 TBSP powdered chiles, such as ancho or Chimayo (this is NOT the same as chili powder, which is a blend of several spices and flavorings)
2 tsp whole fennel seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
2/3 C packed brown sugar
2/3 C apple cider vinegar
4 C strong brewed coffee
1 C chicken, beef, or vegetable stock (or use canned broth)
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
salt and pepper to taste

1. Season meat with salt and pepper. Heat 2 TBSP olive oil in a Dutch oven or other large pot. Brown brisket on both sides over high heat. Remove meat from pot, discard excess fat, and leave about a tablespoon in pot.*
2. Saute onions and garlic in fat over high heat until they just begin to color. Add powdered chile and saute another minute. Add fennel, cumin, sugar, vinegar, coffee, stock, and tomatoes, and bring to a simmer. Return brisket to pot, cover, and let simmer over a low flame for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until meat is very tender. 
3. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Allow brisket to sit (e.g. on an unheated back burner) for 15 minutes. Serve. 

*You can discard all meat fat and saute onions in olive oil if you prefer, but using the fat already in the pan yields more flavorful results.

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