An economical cut of meat from trader Wild Beef
For a long time, brisket was a relatively under-the-radar cut of beef, mostly bought (particularly in the US) for ‘pot roast’ and little else. In the past five years or so, though, hot on the heels of the now-ubiquitous pulled pork, this full-flavoured meat has stepped into the spotlight.
Happily, though, it remains economical—but if it’s a cheaper cut of meat you’re getting, says head chef Justin at Borough Plates, it’s all the more important that it’s top notch quality. “We use brisket from Wild Beef, because they are very particular,” he says. “And when it comes to quality, animal husbandry is very important.”
Reared on the rolling hills of Dartmoor and allowed to roam freely year-round, the beef found at the stall is “beyond organic—and by that we mean it is just about as ‘organic’ as you can get, because they don’t eat anything but grass in summer, hay and silage in the winter—which we make ourselves and add nothing to,” co-owner Lizzie Vines explains. “Dartmoor has never been fertilised, so it is 100 per cent natural.”
A better life
They’ve used the same local abattoir “five minutes’ away” for many years, because they know it means their animals are slaughtered in the most humane possible way. “It’s very quick, it’s painless, and the animals suffer as little stress as possible,” she continues. “Which not only means the animals have had a better life, it makes a difference to the meat”—a sentiment with which Justin agrees wholeheartedly.
“When they’re mass slaughtered and pushed through metal pens, the animals get stressed, and when they’re stressed they use up the glycogen in their muscles that ultimately makes the meat tender and tasty,” Justin explains.
The beef brisket dish at Borough Plates, meanwhile, is soft enough to eat with a spoon. “It is that tender,” he emphasises. Justin brines the meat in a solution of honey, salt, thyme, bay leaf, sugar and water. The solution is brought to the boil then left to go cold, before the meat is added. It’s kept in the liquid for 10 days, before being cooked with beer, carrots, celery, onions, leeks and herbs.
“The salt in the brine expands the tendons in the brisket and softens it,” he continues. “Once cooked, we allow everything to cool overnight before taking the meat out of the liquid. If you take the meat out when hot, it would break down.” The liquid is then reduced to make the gravy with which the brisket is served, alongside crushed carrots and swede, and a homemade dumpling.
“A lot of the cooking here is involved, but when you’re using one of the less prime cuts of meat, it’s worth going the extra mile with it,” says Justin. “Anyone can cook a steak—sear it, rest it, eat it—but when you’re using a cheaper cut it’s worth taking time over it. This literally melts in your mouth. And it’s because the beef itself is so good.”