coffee-braised brisket

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it’s rare that I sleep uninterrupted through the night. perhaps it stems from my childhood – since my bedroom was located over the garage, I would wake up anytime the door was opened. as a doctor, my father worked long, irregular hours, often coming home after midnight. it was never an annoyance to be awakened – rather, I’d be happy to hear the chinese pop music blasted so loud, the sound muscled through his metal car frame, through the cement garage wall, and into my bedroom. I’d sneak out of my room and down the dimly lit staircase. sometimes, we’d sit up late together and he’d make me a sandwich or we would eat leftovers from dinner. sometimes, he’d be so tired, he’d just walk me back upstairs and I’d go back to my room and listen as his snores began down the hall.

later on, as my father’s field went digital, he no longer had to come home so late, but he still had to work night shifts from home. though he had to be awake in case anyone from the hospital needed him, there were nights when things were pretty quiet, giving him a lot of downtime. he began to take on nightly cooking projects: slow-braised cassoulets and oxtails, racks of ribs and marinated hunks of meats that baked all night then filled the house with mouthwatering aromas by morning.

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unfortunately, I did not have the same excellent time management skills as my father. as I got older and schoolwork got more demanding, I was forced to stay awake further into the night. sometimes, I’d go to sleep for a few hours, then wake up again around 3 or 4am to wrap up a paper. though the words always seemed to flow easier, as if in the stillness of early, early morning, with all the distractions of daytime out of the way, I could finally focus, I ultimately realized this was not a healthy way to manage my time.

this brisket is one of the better results of my strange sleeping schedule. after coming home late friday, I popped the brisket in the oven, cooked the vegetables while the brisket browned, dropped the oven temperature, and set the cook time for 3 hours. sometime around 3am, I woke up and removed the brisket to cool. this recipe does take some planning, but because I was able to spread out the timeline, it felt almost effortless (except when I had to haul 4 pounds of brisket 20 minutes from the supermarket to my place).

it’s been a while since I’ve wanted to be awake at 3am – these days, I usually feel regret that I didn’t manage my time a little better. but waking up to the rich aroma of this brisket and stealing a few nibbles by the dim light of my oven reminded me of how I used to love those moments, when in the silence of our sleeping household, I’d share what felt like stolen time with my father, sitting beside him in the warm pools of light at our kitchen counter, and feel safe and at peace for at least that hour.

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makes 6-8 servings

2 tbsp finely ground coffee (I used instant coffee granules and it still tasted great)
1 1/2 tbsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 tbsp black cardamom pods, ground
1 tbsp + 1 tsp kosher salt
~4lb brisket, flat/first cut
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large onions, sliced
4 carrots, peeled, cut into thirds crosswise, then sliced lengthwise
10 garlic cloves, sliced
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cups dried apricots
2 cups coffee (again, I used instant coffee and it worked fine)
6 large eggs in their shells

michael solomonov and steven cook. zahav: a world of israeli cooking. new york: houghton mifflin harcourt, 2015.

1 mix ground coffee, cardamom, black cardamom, and salt in small bowl and rub onto brisket. cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
2 preheat oven to 475ºF. set rack inside roasting pan. place brisket on rack and roast until exterior has browned, ~20 minutes. lower oven temperature to 300ºF.
3 while brisket is browning, warm oil in large skillet over medium heat and add onions, carrots, and garlic. cook,stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened but not browned, ~8 minutes. add tomato paste and cooks until it reduces slightly, ~2 minutes.
4 after lowering oven temperature, remove rack from pan, add vegetables, dried apricots, brewed coffee, and eggs in their shells to roasting pan with brisket.
5 cover pan tightly with two layers of foil, return to oven, and braise for 1 hour. after 1 hour, gently tap eggs with a spoon to make a network of small cracks. re-cover with foil and continue cooking until brisket shreds easily with fork, ~3 hours. let brisket cool in braising liquid, then refrigerate overnight.
6 to serve, preheat oven to 350ºF. slice cold brisket, return to braising liquid, and bake until warmed through, ~30 minutes. spoon broth over meat. serve with peeled eggs.

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