Classic Cookbooks: Edna Lewis's Oven Brisket Recipe

Classic Cookbooks: Edna Lewis's Oven Brisket Recipe

Book CoverMy family has a dinner-table tic: whether we’re at a restaurant or at home and especially good bread is served, someone always says, “You know, I could just eat bread for dinner. This is all I need.” When my father says it I laugh because we’ve heard it a million times, but as often as not I’m the one who pipes up, involuntarily and completely carried away by my enthusiasm for bread and butter.

This weekend I made brisket and realized I’ve developed a new kitchen tic all my own. Whenever I slow-cook or braise a tough piece of meat, I taste it to see if it's tender enough, then announce, “I bet this is going to be so good tomorrow.” Everyone knows that kind of thing improves with a day or two, but saying it aloud reassures and excites me.

Alas, mere hours after I pulled Edna Lewis’s brisket from the oven Saturday night I was on my way to the airport, so I did not get a chance to taste it on the second day. (Yes, Andrew is home alone with several pounds of meat—lucky!) This was particularly upsetting because it was quite good even on the first day—the onions are incredibly rich and sweet and soft, making up for anything the beef might have yet to develop in terms of flavor, texture, or moistness.

The best thing about this recipe, though, is how easy it is. I am a slow cook, but I was able to complete all the prep work (i.e. slicing some onions) while the meat browned, after which everything went into the oven for a few hours. No rubbing with spices and letting sit overnight, no larding, no deglazing. In the spirit of that ease, I neglected to purée the onions into sauce at the end and did not regret it.

  • Yield:6


  • 3 pounds beef brisket or chuck
  • Vegetable oil or lard
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 1/2 pounds onions, peeled and sliced
  • Fresh-ground black pepper
  • 3 or 4 whole allspice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt


  1. 1.

    Wipe the meat with a damp cloth. Heat a skillet, grease lightly with oil or lard, and add the beef, searing well on all sides until well browned. Place the seared meat in a heavy pot or pan. Wipe the skillet out and then add a tablespoon of butter and put in the onions. Stir the onions until they are pretty well browned.

  2. 2.

    Sprinkle the meat over with fresh ground black pepper, then add the browned onions, allspice, and bay leaf. Cover closely and see that the pan is good and hot before placing it in the oven. Set into a preheated 400°F oven until the meat begins to cook. Turn the oven to 225°F and leave to cook undisturbed for 2 1/2 hours.

  3. 3.

    When finished, remove the meat and press the onions through a sieve. Add to pan drippings and season this sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with the beef.

  4. 4.

    My modifications: I used a larger brisket and increased the amount of onions. She notes that the weight of the onions should be 1/2 the weight of the meat. I seasoned the meat generously with kosher salt and pepper before browning, and I browned each side for about eight minutes. I sliced my onions about 1/4 inch thick and cooked them until they were a pale caramel color, not truly brown. Instead of using a separate skillet for browning, as she suggests, I browned the meat in a large Dutch oven, removed it to a board while I cooked the onions, and then returned the meat to the pot, scooping most of the onions up and over it. I didn’t see why I should get two things dirty, especially when that might mean losing some cooked-on meat and onion juices. I was not sure how to tell when the meat had started cooking in the oven, so I left it at 400°F for 15 minutes and then turned the oven down and let it go three hours more, which seemed to work out well.