Sunday Suppers, Monday Edition: Spicy Brisket Nachos

Spicy Brisket NachosBrisket can be a Cranky Cut of meat. And it can be even crankier when it's grass-fed, because grass-fed meat is leaner than grain-fed meat. It likes to cook down in a moist environment. It likes low temperatures. It refuses to be Done before it really is done. Never ever count on the time specified in a recipe, because the brisket will have already taken a peek and will Take Pains to ensure that it takes 2 hours more to cook, just to be Contrary.

Now, there is of course more than one way to cook a brisket, and the way you choose to cook it will depend on what you want the meat to look like when it's done cooking. If you want to slice it in thin-ish slices against the grain, it will take less time to Get There. If you're like me, however, and you want your brisket to completely fall apart into luscious, gelatin-kissed strands that you can practically twirl like pasta---perfect for stuffing into a burrito, taco or into your face---then it will take a Very Long Time Indeed to get there.

for tacos1Muscle fibers are held together with connective tissue made up of collagen and probably Some Other Stuff. Given the right conditions (low temperatures, moist environment and time), collagen melts down into lip-smacking gelatin. Once some of the collagen is melted down, the meat becomes easier to cut and chew when sliced against the grain. Once all the collagen is melted down, the fibers just fall apart into shreds because there is nothing to keep them from doing That. And the liquid becomes rich with lip-smacking gelatin.

This gelatin has little to do with flavor and everything to do with mouthfeel. (I read a Thing a few months ago about how some Uppity Food Publication decided that the word Mouthfeel needs to go. But it's a real word that describes how food feels in your mouth, and I'm keeping it). So, whatever you flavor your brisket with cooks down into a rich sauce that gets its body from gelatin. The good news is you don't have to use any flour or cornstarch or roux or Whatever to thicken your sauce.

for tacos4

Looking good, but it still has hours left to cook. It's done when it's done. Brisket does not rush.

I enjoy a good braise. Braised food requires very little attention. It is done when it's done. It tastes even better a day or three later. Most braising Rules say to start with browned meat. But for this particular brisket, that just seems like gilding the old lily a bit. I mean, you're already going to have a ton of flavor from the meat and Other Add-Ins, and you're going to have a luscious, rich sauce because of all the gelatin. Honestly, I don't miss that subtle layer of Maillard-reaction-ed meat because there's already so much flavor. But you do what you want. Gild away.

You don't have to make nachos with this meat, by the way. Feel free to go the burrito or taco route. Serve it over rice if you'd like. Top a pizza. Fill quesadillas. Fill ravioli. Serve it over pasta. Go crazy.

Spicy Brisket NachosWhatever you decide to Do with your brisket, please be sure to let it cool in its cooking liquid. What happens in a braise is that, even though you're cooking in a moist environment, the meat is technically overcooked and dry--I mean, have you ever cooked steak to an internal temperature of 200F? I didn't think so. When the proteins denature and cook (and overcook) they pretty much squeeze out all the juices present in the meat. If you let the meat and the juices cool separately, the meat will be dry.

Remember the Turkey Scene from Christmas Vacation? Yeah, like that.

Spicy Brisket NachosBut, when you let the meat cool in the liquid, it will reabsorb some of It so that it will seem tender and moist even though it is really overcooked. Tricky, huh?

Brisket Nachos
Recipe type: Dinner/Appetizer
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
The first time I made these nachos, I served them with sliced avocado and some of Uncle Gary's Gourmet Peppers. Unfortunately, my camera didn't remember that I took pictures of that meal, even though I did. Fine.

I am not really providing any measurements for the nachos. Use as much or as little of any of the ingredients as you like. Feel free to serve with salsa if you'd like.
What You Need
For the Brisket
  • 2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 large bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1 2-3 pound brisket, trimmed of some of its fat
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (you can use fresh if they're in season)
  • ¼ cup hot chili powder (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons Baker's Brew Coffee Spice
For the Nachos
  • Your favorite corn chips
  • Some of the shredded brisket (drained fairly well so the chips don't get soggy)
  • Shredded pepper jack cheese
  • pickled peppers (I used Uncle Gary's Gourmet Peppers)
  • Sliced fresh avocado sprinkled with lime juice and salt (or guacamole, if you'd prefer)
  • Sour cream mixed with a pinch of salt, pepper, a healthy squirt of lime juice and some minced cilantro (or plain sour cream is fine, too)
  • More chopped cilantro, for garnish
What To Do
For the Brisket
  1. In a heavy braiser, or Dutch oven, heat the oil and then cook the onions, pepepr and garlic along with some salt and pepper for a minute or two, just to start softening them.
  2. Add the brisket and dump the can of tomatoes on top.
  3. Toss in the chili powder, cumin and Baker's Brew.
  4. Put the lid on the pan and cook over medium-low to low heat until the meat shreds with no resistance. This could take A Very Long Time. Mine took 6 hours. Feel free to use a crock pot or even put this in a 200F oven overnight.
  5. Stir occasionally and test every once in awhile to see how it's coming along.
  6. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
For the Nachos
  1. Arrange your corn tortilla chips on an oven-safe baking try. Top with some of the brisket, the shredded cheese and the peppers. (Cool any remaining brisket in its liquid and refrigerate for another purpose. You will find many, so worry not).
  2. Broil until the cheese is all melted and is starting to color in a few places.
  3. Serve immediately with the avocado (or guacamole), sour cream mixture and minced cilantro.
Other Stuff to Know
You can order Baker's Brew Coffee Spice online from Savory Spice Shop. If you don't want to order any, you can substitute some espresso powder, cocoa powder and a touch of cinnamon and cardamom.

I don't own a pressure cooker, but if you do, you can absolutely use it to make the brisket. It will cut down on your time by a Very Lot.

Y'all, this is some seriously good stuff. Eyes rolling back in your head good. Try it; you'll see!

Enjoy, and have a lovely day.



  1. says

    Jenni, I only recently discovered brisket…love the stuff! And shredding for nachos is brilliant! Wish I had a team going to the Superbowl as this would be perfect for a big bash…


Speak Your Mind

Rate this recipe: