Why It Works
- Browning the brisket deepens its flavor.
- Pressure-cooking the brisket shortens the cooking time by 2 to 3 hours.
- Thinly slicing the meat and then submerging it in the braising liquid helps to reinfuse it with juices.
Making Jewish-style braised brisket the traditional way can take ages. First, you have to brown the meat (at least, you should), then cook the aromatic vegetables like carrots and onion, and finally braise it all gently in the oven until the beef is tender, which can take upwards of four hours.
Enter the pressure cooker. While it doesn't shave off so much time that you can make the brisket from start to finish in under an hour—you still need to brown the beef and vegetables after all—it does significantly cut down on braising time, yielding tender meat in one to one-and-a-half hours.
The cooking time depends on a few factors. First is the thickness of your brisket. Pieces that are closer to about two inches thick will take longer to tenderize, requiring a slightly longer cooking time of about an hour and a half (keep the cooking time at an hour if you don't mind a little more chew). Thinner ones that are about one inch thick, as brisket is sometimes sold, only take about an hour.
Also, pay attention to the cut of brisket you're using. Most of the time, you'll have what's called the "flat" or "first cut," which is the leaner slab of the cut. It tends to dry out more and requires longer cooking to tenderize. The fattier "point" or "second cut" is less common, but it yields juicier, richer meat. It also tenderizes a little more quickly, thanks to all that intramuscular fat, so even a thicker slab should be very tender in just one hour.
The key to success in the pressure cooker is to manage your liquid level. The beef will release ample juices as it cooks, and because a pressure cooker is sealed, almost none of that liquid will evaporate away. This means you need to start with less liquid in the pot, lest you end up with beef soup, not stew.
The first step to reducing the liquid is to make sure you fully cook off the natural juices of the aromatic vegetables. It takes several minutes before the vegetables start to soften, and it takes several more before they reduce to a syrupy consistency. Exactly how long depends in large part on your pressure cooker: Stovetop models can do this faster than most electric ones since stovetop burners are more powerful than the heating elements in electric pressure cookers.
After that, you want to introduce as little extra liquid as possible. This means using thick tomato paste instead of the juicy canned tomatoes in my traditional, oven-based recipe and fully reducing the wine, not just cooking off its alcohol. This way, when the beef goes back into the pot and adds all of its own juices to the mix, you'll end up with a dish that has a stewy consistency, not a soupy one.
- 5 pounds (2.25kg) beef brisket (see note)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil, plus more if needed
- 3 pounds yellow onions (1.3kg; about 5 large), sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 1 1/4 pounds carrots (560g; about 8 medium), cut into 3/4-inch dice
- 3/4 pound celery (340g; about 5 large ribs), cut into 3/4-inch dice
- 6 medium cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup (120ml) ketchup
- 1/4 cup (60ml) tomato paste
- 1 cup (240ml) dry red wine
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
If your brisket is too large to sit flat on the bottom of your pressure cooker, cut it into pieces that will fit. Season brisket all over with salt and pepper. In an electric multi-cooker (such as an Instant Pot), set to searing mode or a stovetop pressure cooker set over medium-high heat, add oil and heat until shimmering. Working in batches, add brisket, and brown on both sides, about 6 minutes per side (the exact browning time will depend on your pressure cooker model; electric ones will generally take quite a bit longer than stovetop ones). Transfer brisket to platter or rimmed baking sheet, and set aside.
Add 1 to 2 tablespoons additional oil, as needed, if pot has gone dry. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, and season with salt. Cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits, until onions are very soft and any released juices have thickened into a glaze, 25-35 minutes (the exact cooking time will again depend on the type of cooker you're using, with electric ones taking quite a bit longer); reduce heat at any point if vegetables threaten to scorch. The vegetables should have reduced significantly in volume by this time.
Stir in ketchup and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until thick, about 3 minutes. Add wine and cook until raw alcohol smell has cooked off, about 3 minutes.
Add thyme and bay leaves. Reduce heat to medium-low or turn off searing mode on electric multi-cooker. Give the vegetables a good stir, scraping the bottom well all over (this will be your last chance to stir before closing the cooker); if vegetables are very dry, stir in 1/2 cup water to moisten. Add brisket pieces, nestling them well in the vegetables, and add any accumulated juices. Seal pressure cooker and bring to high pressure over medium heat or using the pressure-cooking mode of an electric multi-cooker. Cook for at least 1 hour at high pressure and up to 1 hour 30 minutes. Choose 1 hour if your brisket pieces are closer to 1 inch thick, or if they're thicker but you want a little more chew to the meat; choose 1 hour 30 minutes if your brisket is closer to 2 inches thick, and you want it more tender.
Rapidly release pressure cooker or allow to release naturally, then open. Transfer brisket pieces to a work surface, and let rest until cool enough to handle. Taste braising liquid and season with salt, if necessary. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves, and skim off any excess fat if it's there (this will depend on the cut of brisket). If the braising liquid is a little too watery, you can reduce it at this point by simmering it uncovered until it thickens slightly (in some electric multi-cookers, you may need to use the sauté or similar function).
Slice brisket thinly against the grain. Arrange on a platter and spoon the sauce and vegetables all over, making sure the meat is bathing in juices. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes in a warm place. Serve.
For the juiciest brisket, try to use one that still has the second cut (also called the point or the deckle) attached. It has more intramuscular fat than the more common, lean first cut and will remain moister as a result. If using just the first cut, be sure not to trim any fat—it needs the fat for moistness.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Brisket can be made up to 4 days ahead and refrigerated whole or sliced in its braising liquid. Reheat gently before serving.