Monday, October 25, 2010

The Comfort Zone

Braised Beef Brisket with Garlic Rosemary Roast Potatoes and Roasted Caramelized Red Onions

After the experiment that was bread making I thought it may be best to get back into my comfort zone with an extra emphasis on the word comfort.

Comfort food is getting a lot of play these days and in my opinion, deservedly so. Without getting all political or ideological, I think the recent resurgence of comfort food is directly correlated to the trying economic times we're living through.

Prior to the economic collapse there was a flight to extravagance in the culinary world perpetuated by the idea that the golden age was a never ending phenomenon. Restaurants by Mina, Boulud, Jean Georges, Ripert, Robuchon, Keller and all the other elites were no longer a special treat for many - in fact, they had become more trendy than exclusive, catering to a class of nouveau rich. In Philadelphia alone we saw four ultra-high end steak houses open within a five mile radius all in one year's time. One of restaurants was even rumored to cost $12.5 million dollars(!) - little did they know the recession was right around the corner.

At the time the trend was all white truffles, foie gras, kobe beef and toro tartare to name a few (sometimes even on one sandwich... see Barclay Prime's $100.00 cheese steak for details). Fast forward from 2006 to 2010 and now the trend is all about how to dress up meatloaf, fried chicken and tacos so that we think we're eating something completely new and unique. It's this movement that is redefining local dives, gastro-pubs and high end restaurants alike, pushing chefs to create menus that transform "Leave it to Beaver" classics into "Modern Family" masterpieces.

With all that in mind (okay you got me... the comfort food vs. economy equation was calculated post meal) and with a cool fall evening at hand it was brisket time.

The recipe comes from Tyler Florence as I had just watched an episode of "Tyler's Ultimate" last Saturday morning. A typical weekend morning starts when my furry alarm clocks come sniffing around the bed for breakfast at 7AM. After feeding the beasts I usually lie in bed and flip back and forth between ESPN and the Food Network. It's here that I usually get to re-live some sort of Philly sports debacle from the previous day and decide what I'm cooking in the coming nights.

Here's the recipe I saw Saturday morning.

I started off by seasoning the brisket with salt, pepper and olive oil - easy enough.

Once seasoned it was into the dutch oven for a quick sear on both sides. The goal here is to form a crust that will seal and lock in the juices. You're going for a dark brown color because as noted by Joshua Stokes on The Huffington Post, brown tastes better.

After searing I removed the brisket and let it rest on the side while I browned the vegetables. Once browned, I added the tomatoes (I'm convinced that a higher end canned tomato does indeed yield better results - here I went with San Marzano), garlic, wine and herbs. Once incorporated I added the brisket back into the pot, covered it and placed it into a 350F oven for 3 hours. Let the waiting begin.

At the 2 hour mark I cut up some red and white potatoes and seasoned them with some olive oil, dried rosemary, garlic powder and salt/pepper. These went into a 425F oven for 45-50 minutes. This is a go to side dish of mine and is pretty hard to screw up - the key is to stir them ever 15-20 minutes so they get cooked on all sides - you're going for a nice brown golden brown exterior.

Simultaneous to the potatoes I gave another Tyler Florence dish a go, Caramelized Red Onions with Balsamic and Honey (recipe here). Cut an onion in half, drizzle with honey and a good aged balsamic, salt/pepper, a little butter on top and place them on a foil lined baking sheet. Toss them into the oven with the brisket at 350F for 40 minutes - super easy.

At the 3 hour mark everything was ready to come out of the oven.

I pulled the brisket onto a cutting board to rest for a few minutes and strained the pot, reserving the rich, beefy sauce that resulted from the braise. You want to reserve the thick, chunky sauce, not the fatty liquid.

The sauce went back into the pot and while Tyler Florence didn't do this, I think my next move elevated the recipe to from tasty to true comfort. I took the immersion blender for a run through the sauce and made the chunky sauce into a gravy-esque puree.

After slicing the brisket against the grain I plated some potatoes, half an onion and the sliced brisket with gravy.

Survey says???

Ding, ding, ding, ding... perfect.

The Lady and I stuffed ourselves and agreed that this effort trumped the bread making fiasco from earlier in the day.

So if you're looking for some comfort on a cool fall evening, look no further than your kitchen - it has all the answers.

Up next:

Whole Wheat Penne with Artichoke Lemon Pesto