After a crazy September full of Jewish holidays, challahs, and an unhealthy dose of bubbe-meise, I bring to you a bombshell of a brisket recipe that will cut like butter and takes *almost* no work at all. Yes, yes, I know… You’re welcome.
Before we get into the delicious details of this boozy brisket, what IS brisket? What IS meat? Seems like such a deceivingly straightforward question, doesn’t it? Meat, which is harvested muscle from different animals, is mostly water (~70%), high in protein (~20%), and can vary in fat content depending on the cut. Meat also contains some vitamins and minerals, most notably Vitamin B12 which is only found in meat, fish, and eggs and is necessary for healthy brain function and metabolism. Meat is made up of muscle cells (a.k.a. muscle fibers) that are organized into bundles, hard connective tissue called elastin (often referred to as gristle), and soft connective tissue called collagen which is the solid form of gelatin. Certain cuts of meat have more or less connective tissue. Brisket, for example, is a tougher cut of meat with a lot of hard and soft connective tissue. The science behind the saying “low and slow” all comes down to making sure the connective tissue is completely broken down, which takes a lot of time. Heating up tough cuts of meat very quickly at higher temperatures will cause the muscle fibers to seize up and release all of their moisture, while lower temperatures for longer amounts of time allow the muscle fibers to relax and retain their moisture while the connective tissue breaks down. As the meat cooks it undergoes what is known as the Maillard reaction, where the unraveled proteins break up into the amino acids that they are made of and react with certain sugars resulting in browned meat with a complex depth of flavor.
Now that we know what meat really is, let’s get to the good stuff: the booze. The key is the acidity of the beer, comprised of a 1-2 punch of two similar but different types of acids: a Bronsteid acid (which is characterized by their ability to release hydrogen ions, and are what most people think of when they think of acids), and a Lewis acid (which are characterized by the molecule’s ability to accept a pair of electrons). Alcohols, such as the ethanol in beer, are Bronsteid acids, while the carbon dioxide is a Lewis acid; these compounds give the beer a lower pH (which is described in more detail in my previous blog post about Argentinean Beef Empanadas). Acidic pH environments, such as the beer that the brisket is cooked in, promote the denaturation, or unraveling, of proteins in the meat while simultaneously speeding up the liquefying of the connective tissues, both of which contribute to the end result: a mouth-watering, unbelievably soft cut of brisket.
I’m not sure who was the first person out there to cook a big cut of meat in a bunch of booze, but I’m sure that booze and meat was the perfect cure for all that bubbe-meise they probably had to deal with. I know it was for me! ;-)