Brisket is a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest of beef or veal. The beef brisket is one of the eight beef primal cuts. The brisket muscles include the superficial and deep pectorals. As cattle do not have collar bones, these muscles support about 60% of the body weight of standing/moving cattle. This requires a significant amount of connective tissue, so the resulting meat must be cooked correctly to tenderize the connective tissue. According to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, the term derives from the Middle English “brusket” which comes from the earlier Old Norse “brjósk“, meaning cartilage. The cut overlies the sternum, ribs and connecting costal cartilages.
Please note that I am NOT talking about corned beef brisket, which is a whole ‘nother thing. A traditional cut of beef brisket is a large (typically 8 to 12 pounds) cut of fatty meat. Because it is so fatty, it shrinks a great deal while cooking. Me being me, I prefer to pay a bit more per pound for a leaner cut of brisket — either a fully trimmed brisket (leaner) or a flat cut brisket (leanest). While they will still shrink, they won’t shrink nearly as much as a regular cut, and as long as you cook them properly — low and slow — it will be tender and yummy, but without all the fat and shrinkage of a fatty brisket. Just talk with your butcher and ask what the leanest cut is, and if they don’t have any lean cuts available, ask him or her to cut one for you.
“Tex-Mex” (combination of Texan and Mexican) is a term describing a regional American cuisine that blends food products available in the United States and the culinary creations of Mexican-Americans influenced by Mexican cuisine. The cuisine has spread from border states such as Texas and those in the Southwestern United States to the rest of the country. Tex-Mex is most popular in the Southern state of Texas. Tex-Mex is very different from the Southwest cuisine found in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. In these areas, the preferred southwest cuisine is New Mexican cuisine. The southwestern state of Nevada and West Coast state of California tend to lie in the middle as far the preferred style of Mexican-American food. In some places, particularly outside of Texas, “Tex-Mex” is used to describe a localized version of Mexican cuisine. It is common for all of these foods to be referred to as “Mexican food” in Texas, other parts of the United States, and some other countries. In other ways, it is Southern cooking using the commodities from Mexican culture. In many parts of the U.S. outside of Texas the term is synonymous with Southwestern cuisine.
What could possibly be better than BBQ or Tex-Mex, you ask? Why, a marriage of the two in the form of Brisket Tacos!
Until recently, a local restaurant that served both killer BBQ and Tex-Mex had brisket tacos on their menu, but alas, they have changed hands and have been replaced by (IMO) a very mediocre Tex-Mex restaurant sin (Spanish for “without”) the brisket tacos…which I think is a sin (the English meaning) on several levels. 😦
And what’s worse? A friend of mine was coming to visit and she’d been looking forward to trying Brisket Tacos.
So, I decided that if I couldn’t get them at a restaurant, well then, I’d just make them at home! (Yes, yes, yes, I know — you’re never supposed to try a new recipe out on guests. Well, I would rather try a new recipe and have it fail than disappoint my friend. Besides, worst case scenario is that we’d have to eat out that night, instead!)
I Googled and was inspired by these two recipes. The first one says that Brisket Tacos are a Dallas thing:
And the second cook who caught my eye makes her brisket in her slow cooker:
Using these two fine recipes as inspiration, I developed my own take on Brisket Tacos, and let me tell you, I think it’s even yummier than it smells — and it smells mighty yummy!
The marriage of BBQ and Tex-Mex in Brisket Tacos may not be as momentous as, say, the Marriage of Figaro, but something this yummy deserves a momentous song! (Go on, add some class to your day and give this a play — you know you want to!)
Brisket Tacos (Serves 4 to 6)
- Oil (canola or olive) (if you use a non-stick skillet, you’ll need very little)
For the brisket:
- 3 to 3 1/2 pound lean beef brisket (suggest fully trimmed or flat cut brisket, both of which are much leaner cuts than traditional brisket)
- 1/4 cup vinegar (suggest white or apple cider vinegar)
- Seasonings to taste: splash of Tobasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, and red pepper flakes
- 1 can or bottle of beer (1 1/2 cups)
- Approximately 1/2 cup water
- 1 beef bouillon cube or 1 teaspoon bouillon granules
- 1 (or 2) bay leaf
- Garlic cloves (equivalent of 2 or 3 cloves, or more or less, to taste)
- 1 onion, quartered or cut into eighths
- 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and de-ribbed (CAUTION! Wear gloves when handling jalapeños!!)
For the tacos:
- 2 poblano peppers
- 1 to 2 onions, sliced in half and then sliced into half rings
- Tortillas (flour or corn; we like to use the smaller fajita-sized tortillas)
- Grated cheese (reduced fat Monterrey jack, jalapeño cheddar, cheddar, or whatever makes you happy)
- Condiments to taste, such as: salsa (green or red), reduced fat sour cream, guacamole or sliced avocado
- Fresh cilantro to dress each serving (optional, but man oh man, does it add something! Alas, I’d forgotten to get any when my friend was here, but I snagged some & hubby & I dressed our leftover brisket tacos with it, and holy guacamole, it was G-O-O-D)
- Remove the brisket from the ‘fridge and let it lose a bit of its chill (it will brown better this way; it can sit out for 30 to 45 minutes). Trim away visible excess fat, but do leave a thin layer. Dry brisket with a paper towel.
- Heat a small amount (tablespoon or less) of oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Brown brisket on both sides.
- Remove brisket from pan and set aside.
- Add the quartered (or eighthed) onion to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften and brown (about 5 minutes or so). Add in minced garlic and cook for another couple of minutes.
- Remove from heat. Add in the jalapeño. Pour vinegar into the pan to “de-glaze” it, scraping along the pan to stir up all the yummy bits. Return brisket, fat side up, and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add in beer, beef bouillon, and water. Stir to dissolve beef bouillon. (If using a beef bouillon cube, dissolve the cube in the water before adding it to the pan.) Add in seasonings to taste, but use an easy hand — you’re wanting to give the brisket a nice undercurrent of smokey flavor, so just a sprinkling of seasonings across the meat is called for.
- Cover and place in oven. Bake at 250F for 6 to 6 1/2 hours, until tender.
- Remove from oven and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the poblano peppers by grilling them or broiling them until they are softened and on the verge of blackening. Seal them in a paper bag for 20 minutes. Remove from paper bag, remove skin from peppers, de-seed and de-rib the peppers, then slice them into strips.
- Add a small amount (teaspoon or two) of oil to a non-stick skillet and heat over medium to medium-high heat. Sauté sliced onion until softened. Add in poblano strips and cook for another minute.
- Remove brisket from skillet or Dutch oven. Shred with two forks (you really want to shred it up relatively finely; use a knife, also, if need be). If desired, you can strain the cooking liquid and serve some of it on each taco.
- Prepare and enjoy as you would a regular taco or fajita, dressing it with grilled onion and poblano, cilantro (if using), and desired condiments. If you like, place your tortilla in a non-stick skillet, sprinkle with some cheese, and heat the tortilla over medium to medium-high heat until tortilla is slightly crispy and cheese is melted or beginning to melt. Alternatively, you can top a tortilla with cheese and broil it until the cheese melts.
- Refrigerate leftovers.