“Leftover brisket” is something of an oxymoron, since traditional braised Ashkenazi brisket is usually the first thing to run out on most dinner tables. But at my little table of two, it’s rare that my husband and I can finish even the smallest of briskets by ourselves. Fortunately, too much brisket is one of the best possible problems to have, and my favorite way of solving it has always been to shred the leftover meat, cook it in a spicy sauce, and serve it in warm corn tortillas. The sauce and tortillas stretch the brisket, helpfully increasing the number of servings we can squeeze out of it, all while transforming the brisket into a totally different meal.
But sometimes, I want to skip the first iteration of traditional brisket and go straight to my next-day favorite, and so I make a big batch of brisket tacos. Just like their set-it-and-forget-it cousin, the braised, sliced brisket, brisket tacos cook slow and low, immersed in liquid and covered. Except, rather than the usual broth, onions, and carrots, this brisket cooks in a spicy, garlicky roasted tomato puree, until the meat is meltingly tender and the sauce is rich and reduced.
To cut the intensity of the meat, I love to top my tacos with pickled onions. Make these while the brisket cooks and refrigerate until serving so you can contrast the spicy flavors with a cool, sour-sweet crunch. The tacos don’t need much else in the way of toppings, but I love to gild the lily and add sliced jalapeños and cilantro. Guacamole or sliced avocado probably wouldn’t hurt either, if you were so inclined.
Hint: if, by some miracle, you find yourself with leftover taco filling, by all means, serve it with scrambled eggs and more corn tortillas for the best breakfast tacos this side of Texas.
For the brisket
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 green jalapeno, chopped (remove the seeds and white internal veins if you are sensitive to heat)
1 24-oz. can crushed tomatoes (preferably the fire-roasted variety, like Muir Glen)
4 cups low-sodium beef broth (instant or bouillon is fine)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 3-lb beef brisket (leave the fat on)
3 tsp each salt and pepper
For the pickled red onions
1 medium red onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
For serving the tacos
12-14 corn tortillas
wedges of lime
Prepare the brisket:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Combine the garlic, jalapeño, tomatoes, broth and spices in a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large oven-proof Dutch oven or pot over high heat.
Using 2 teaspoons each of salt and pepper, season the brisket generously on both sides.
Place the brisket in the pan and brown well on both sides.
Pour in the tomato-broth mixture. It should cover (or almost cover) the brisket.
Cover the pot with the lid and bring the liquid to a boil (this should take 7-8 minutes). Once it boils, remove from the stove and place in the oven.
Simmer in the oven for 3-3 1/2 hours, or until very tender.
Prepare the pickled red onions:
Combine the onion, sugar, salt, and vinegar in a small pot over medium high heat. Stir well to combine.
Bring to a boil, cover, and remove from heat.
Let stand 15 minutes.
Transfer onions and their liquid into a glass bowl or jar, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Prepare the tacos:
During the brisket’s last 15 minutes of cooking warm the tortillas by wrapping them in foil and putting them in the oven with the brisket. Take them out when you take out the brisket.
Once the brisket has cooked, remove it from the sauce and place on a carving board.
Cut away any remaining ribbons of fat on the brisket and use two forks to shred the brisket.
Heat the sauce remaining in the Dutch oven over high heat and cook for 5 minutes. It will begin to thicken.
Leave the heat on and add the shredded brisket back to the sauce and mix well to coat all the meat with the sauce.
Cook for another 5-6 minutes to completely saturate the meat with the sauce. Use tongs to toss the meat in the sauce, pulling apart any shreds that are stuck together.
Bring the pot of shredded brisket to the table with the tortillas, pickled onions, jalapeño, cilantro and any other toppings you like (guacamole, hot sauce, etc).