Romancing the Brisket – A Danish Viking Smoked Sea Salt Adventure

I was standing in line at Highland Hills Farm’s stall on Saturday morning. Ted was tending to a customer who ended up spending 77 dollars on a handful of beef roasts. One of the items they passed up was a cute little brisket, a few pounds worf. Snatch and grab, I had me a brisket. This wasn’t planned, but the lure of the slow cooked beef brisket in my mowf was too much, I had to make it go.
But Biggles, how come the brisket you’re picturing here is clearly a brisket a little more than twice just 2 pounds?
Cause I switched gears mainstream, doof. What was to be a little happy meal turned quickly in to an all day affair with a pink slab of beautiful beefy love. And I’m man enough to admit when I’m smitten and on my knees pleading for more.
Come in to my parlor, got your ring ready? You’d better be able to support my brisket or you’ll have me to deal with me little mister. Beware all who enter here, it’s beefy!

How fresh are your oyster mushrooms? Got a pound for 5 bucks at the market, dang.
Preface: Today’s entry is meant as a guideline and not as a recipe. A good brisket takes time and some effort. Nailing down one exact way just isn’t right. So, read this through a few times and see what you think, adjust as necessary.
You also need to know this, about that. This meal is easy to do, no really. Sure it takes a long time, but the skill level is right at the bottom. However, (and that’s a big “however”) you will be dealing with sloshy liquid in a shallow dish that turns in to breathtakingly hot liquid in a shallow dish. You must be someone with a decent set of arms and grips to get this heavy, yet sloshy baking dish safely to where it needs to be. How do I know? I got shit everywhere. In the oven, on the oven door, soaked a hot pad (read here: burned my right thumb pretty good), on the floor, on the cabinets and on the stove. Please be careful!

Here’s the deal. While Ted’s brisket is a world class grass fed, organic slab of beef. It was too small and didn’t have enough fat for the brisket I had in mind (a version of Justin Wilson’s recipe for smoked salt brisket with mushrooms). I ended up at a local grocery and bought me the standard 5 or 6 pound beef brisket with a good plate of fat on one side. Grabbed me quart of good, low salt beef broth too. Low salt because when beef broth is reduced, it can get a bit rich & too salty. That’s pretty much it, except for the Danish Viking Smoked Sea Salt and mushrooms (oyster & crimini) I already had.
You don’t need to have the smoked salt, but I recommend it highly. If not, you’ll need a good and hearty spice blend that can stand up to simmering all afternoon. Rosemary, coarse sea salt, paprika … well you get the idea.

Preheat oven to 325 with rack on bottom for 30 minutes. Please put an oven thermometer in your oven to make sure you get 325 out of it, then remove. If your oven is too hot, your meat will seize. If it is too cool, it’ll take too long.
Wash and pat dry your room temperature meat. Season both sides well.
Layer your mushrooms in, one layer on bottom of roasting pan. If your brisket has a thin portion that will cause it to be uneven, layer in a little more mushrooms so it lays flat. I ripped & sliced my mushrooms a bit so they’d lay flattish. You could add moon sliced onions too.

Here’s what you’re looking for. A heavily salted, spiced meat slab with liquid coming up, but not over the meat. Actually, you could be about 1/2″ lower on the liquid. Cover with foil, two small knife slits and put in oven. I used a tad over 4 cups of beef broffs. Oh, and do what I forgot to do. Score the fat across the top, about every inch or two. This will allow more surface area for spices and it gives the fat room to contract and not cinch the meat up in a cup formation.
Here’s where things can go different ways. Originally I did this at 350 for 2 hours and the meat just plain dried up. Or seized as I like to call it. The idea here is to gently introduce heat so it gets a chance to come up to temp and not cook the fat out too damed quickly. 325 does this perfectly. 300 is too low, 350 is too high. Got it?
The underlying principle here is to get the meat to 220 degrees as gently as you can. I know that sounds high, but not for juicy brisket it ain’t. I was able to do 325 for 2 hours. It was at this point I could see I didn’t have enough time if we were going to eat by 6pm. So I removed the foil and jacked the heat to 350 for another hour. This was to brown the meat and to evaporate some moisture. Not much evaporated, maybe a 1/2″?

When smoking a brisket for 10 to 12 hours, you’ll usually lose about 50% by weight. As you can see, we did not and we’re at 220 degrees internal temp. It came out FINE. While it wasn’t pully aparty, it was very tender. One bite and you were through the slice. The buttery beef flavor was high, yet the salt didn’t overwhelm. Total score to perfection. It’s what us pros call, Brisket Bliss.
When I do this again, I’ll leave it at 325 until done. This will probably take a total of about 4 to 5 hours. A lot like a pot roast I would think. And you’ll need to monitor moisture levels in the roaster along with meat color. You’ll want to remove foil no less than an hour before you remove it from the oven. Good caramelly color takes time, don’t rush.
Okay, so the brisket is done and resting underneath two tight layers of foil on your cutting board? Excellent. What to do with all that broth? Let’s make a sauce, eh?

Move brisket liquor to appropriate sauce pan and reduce (boil nicely) until the flavor makes you smile. Mine went down by 1/3. You could go much further, it depends on your Sauce Fu.
I tried about 2 different kinds of pan sauces and screwed them both up. I wasn’t paying attention and my flour clumped up, idiot. Then it got too complicated and I was tired. Time to keep it simple and get it done today. 4 to 5 ladles in to a warming fry pan. Temper a little less than a tablespoon of corn starch in cold water, stir. Then add to warming liquor with a wisk and blend in. Add lump of butter, simmer for a few moments and turn off heat. Taste and adjust flavors as needed. With the heavy Viking salt only the addition of fresh ground black pepper was needed. This coated the back of the spoon.
Note: I know the butter may seem a bit over the top. But you see, butter is a flavor muter (thanks Shuna!). If there are any heavy flavors from the beef or veal stock, the butter will calm things down and make them glide about. This is an important step, don’t blow it.

How was it all? Z went back for a large helping of seconds and asked for more of that “Gravy!”. Mama came in, didn’t say anything. But I caught her at the cutting board with bits and dredging them through the sauce. I did the same for about 15 minutes. Who needs plates anyway? Plates are sooooo 2002.
Armed with this knowledge anyone should be able to get a world class brisket for a cool Autumn evening. If you have an oval French oven, I would use that. Maybe Bacon Claus will send one my way this holiday season? Mebbe.
Thought that was tasty? Just wait until you see what I did with the leftovers.

6 thoughts on “Romancing the Brisket – A Danish Viking Smoked Sea Salt Adventure

  1. I got skinny arms. Can you come over and grip my slosh?
    (OK, OK, act grown-up.) Actually, I’ve heard brisket is better the next day; you agree? I’ve made some tough li’l bastids.

  2. I am salivating. That sounds simply divine, I am jumping in the Sentra and running to the market for brisket in 3 1/2 minutes.

  3. Hey Amy,
    I suppose it’d work out okay. I’m not a huge fan of the crockpot so I don’t know the temp or times. I find that crockpot meals you can’t fuss with. At the end of the day, you have what you have. I like to adjust my flavors and sauce reduction as I go.
    It’s always worth a try though!