I recently had the chance to attend a butchering seminar at one of New York City’s longest-running butcher shops, Fischer Bros & Leslie on the Upper West Side, which has been in operation and family-owned since 1949. I love the chance to learn more about cooking from an expert, and meeting Paul Whitman, one of the current owners, was a real treat.
I got to learn a little about the basics of butchering, the kind of cuts of meat to buy for various occasions and even got to taste some of the most delicious latkes and chopped liver in New York City. Here are a few of Paul’s top tips for buying, prepping and cooking meat like a real expert. And make sure to check out Fischer Bros & Leslie’s garlic braised brisket recipe below
1. The two best tools for cooking meat are a good chef’s knife and a meat thermometer. There are a million tools, gadgets, pots and other items you can buy to prepare meat. But don’t waste your money necessarily – just make sure your knife is sharpened regularly and you have an accurate meat thermometer, which can cost as little as $7.
2. Speaking of chef’s knives, the easiest tool for keeping your knives sharp is a Japanese water stone. Paul showed us all you need to do is get it wet, and then sharpen it carefully until it can easily cut through a piece of paper. Japanese water stones are one of the most reasonably priced ways to keep your knife sharp – only about $13.
3. Dry brine your turkey for the most flavorful meat – or forget the brine all together! Everyone loves to brine their turkey overnight in a water brine, usually with some spices. But Paul says forget the water brine if you want the most flavorful turkey. While the water brine might make for a juicy turkey, it ends up being a bit – no surprise – watery, and the flavor of the brine itself doesn’t really absorb into the meat. The process of “koshering” a turkey (i.e. soaking and salting) is effectively the same thing as dry brining. So if you purchase a fresh kosher turkey there is no need to dry brine it at all which saves you prep time, which means more time to guzzle wine before your relatives invade.
And for a super cool trick, instead of just placing stuffing inside the cavity of the bird, create a pocket between the breast on top and the skin, and place additional stuffing in this pocket. It will make the skin crispier, the breast more flavorful and the stuffing will be out of this world. Just remember, place the stuffing inside the turkey only immediately before popping it in the oven to avoid any potential contamination.
4. Forget the first cut! It had traditionally been thought that the first cut of brisket is the best. But in years past thinking has changed, and Paul agrees, the second cut of brisket makes for a far more flavorful piece of meat. The first cut is leaner, but the second cut has more marbling of fat, and therefore ends up being more flavorful. (Check out the garlic braised brisket recipe below!)
5. Want tender meat? Try pineapple! Apparently there’s an enzyme naturally occurring in pineapple called bromelain that helps tenderize meat. So if you are looking to make super tender meat with a bit of a sweet tang try some fresh pineapple or pineapple juice in your marinade.
Garlic Braised Brisket
36 garlic cloves, unpeeled (2 cups)
3 Tbsp olive oil
4 to 7 lbs. 1st or 2nd cut brisket
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 cups chicken broth
4 sprigs fresh thyme (or 2 tsp dried thyme)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried rosemary)
1 tsp grated lemon zest
Salt and Ground Black Pepper to taste
Drop the garlic cloves into a small saucepan of boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain immediately. Peel when cool enough to handle. Set aside on paper towels to dry.
Add olive oil to heavy casserole and brown brisket well, about 10 minutes on each side then set meat aside.
Add the garlic cloves to the same pan and cook until golden on the edges.
Add the vinegar and deglaze the pan, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Add the stock, thyme, and rosemary sprigs, and reduce the heat to a simmer.
Salt and pepper the brisket to taste on all sides and return to the pan. Spoon the garlic cloves over the meat.
Cook brisket, covered at 350 degrees for 2.5 to 3 hours, basting occasionally.
Cool the brisket in the pan sauce, cover with foil, and refrigerate until fat congeals. Scrape off solid fat. Remove brisket from pan and slice thinly across the grain.
Prepare the gravy: Warm braising mixture slightly then strain it, reserving the garlic and discarding the thyme and rosemary. Skim and discard as much fat as possible from liquid. Puree about one half of the cooked garlic with 1 cup of the braising liquid in a food processor or a blender. (If you want a smooth gravy, puree all of the cooked garlic cloves.)
Transfer the pureed mixture, the remaining braising liquid, and the rest of the cooked garlic to a skillet. Add the chopped rosemary, minced garlic, and lemon zest. Reduce gravy over high heat, uncovered, to desired consistency.
Taste and adjust the seasoning. Rewarm brisket in gravy until heated through and serve.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.