Brisket Braised in Pomegranate Juice with Onion Confit and Pomegranate Seeds

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Yield:

    8

    generous servings

Appears in

Cut open a pomegranate. Hundreds of juice sacs form a nearly perfect star, red as blood. Little wonder it is celebrated in myth and ritual by all ancient peoples—Chinese, Greeks, as well as Jews—as a symbol of fertility and abundance.

On Rosh Hashanah, Jews often eat the pomegranate, one of the miperi ha-eretz, seven choice fruits of ancient Israel, in fulfillment of the commandment to eat a fruit not yet sampled this season. For, according to Kabbalistic tradition, the pomegranate contains exactly 613 seeds, the precise number of commandments a pious Jew must follow; eating this perfect fruit on Rosh Hashanah embodies the hope that we may perform as many good deeds and righteous acts as the pomegranate has seeds.

The pomegranate’s virtues are not merely symbolic. Latest scientific research suggests it may slow the aging process and fight diseases like cancer. For the cook, it adds a tart, complex fruitiness to foods, tenderizes tough cuts, and even reduces the amount of salt needed in meat dishes. In this recipe, the juice tenderizes the brisket and invests the amethyst gravy with a haunting depth. More beautifully layered autumn colors and flavors unfold slowly: a cushion of bronze caramelized onions cooked to a jammy confit, or “onion marmalade,” giving way to a shower of tart-sweet pomegranate seeds. It’s a glamorous show-stopper, worth every minute in the kitchen. For a discussion of pomegranate substitutions, see Cook’s Note.

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Ingredients

Brisket

  • 3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
  • A first-cut beef brisket (about 5 pounds), trimmed of excess fat, wiped with a damp paper towel, and patted dry
  • 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 2 leeks, washed well and coarsely chopped (include both white and pale green parts)
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk with leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups pomegranate juice (see Cook’s Note)
  • 2 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade, or good-quality low-sodium canned
  • 3 fresh thyme sprigs or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 fresh rosemary branches
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Confit

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large onions (about pounds), very thinly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chicken broth
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • ½ cup pomegranate seeds (see Cook’s Note)

Method

  1. Prepare the brisket. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed roasting pan, using two burners, if necessary, or in a wide 6-quart Dutch oven or flameproof casserole. Add the brisket and brown well on both sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the brisket to a platter and set aside. (Alternatively, you might find it easier to sear the meat under the broiler. Just cover the broiler pan well with foil to minimize cleanup. Preheat the broiler. Place the brisket under the broiler, fat side up, and broil for 5–6 minutes on each side, or until nicely browned. Move the meat around as necessary, so it sears evenly on the back and front portions. Transfer the brisket to a platter and set aside.) Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of fat remaining in the pan and add the onions and leeks. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat, until the vegetables are softened, 5–7 minutes. Add the garlic, carrots, and celery and continue cooking until the onions are golden, 7–10 minutes, stirring and scraping the pan to prevent scorching or sticking.
  3. Add 1 cup pomegranate juice and bring the mixture to a boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, until the liquid is reduced by about half. Add the remaining 1 cup juice, the broth, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves and bring the mixture to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Lightly salt and pepper the brisket on both sides, and add it to the pan, fat side up, spooning the vegetable mixture all over the meat. Cover the pan tightly, and braise the brisket in the oven, basting every half hour, until the meat is very tender, 2½—3½ hours. (Turn the oven down to 300°F if the braising liquid begins to bubble rapidly.)
  5. While the brisket is cooking, make the confit. In a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet, warm the oil. Add the onions, season lightly with salt and pepper, and toss to coat with the oil. Cook, tightly covered, over the lowest heat, stirring occasionally so the mixture does not burn, for 1 hour, or until the onions are very soft and pale gold in color. Add additional salt and pepper to taste, the broth, and wine. Raise the heat and boil the mixture, uncovered, stirring, until all the liquid is evaporated and the onions turn golden. Taste and adjust the seasoning (it may take quite a bit of salt), then turn off the heat. Cover the mixture and keep it warm. Stir in the pomegranate seeds just before serving.
  6. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and cover it loosely with foil. Prepare the gravy. Strain the braising mixture, reserving the vegetables. Skim and discard as much fat as possible from the liquid. Puree the reserved vegetables and 1 cup of the defatted braising liquid in a food processor or a blender. Transfer the pureed mixture and the remaining braising liquid to a skillet and reduce the gravy over high heat to the desired consistency. Taste for seasoning.
  7. Cut the brisket into thin slices across the grain at a slight diagonal. Spread the onion confit over a serving platter and arrange the sliced brisket on top. Ladle the hot gravy over the meat and serve immediately.

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