Fran’s Brisket for Onion Lovers and Variations

There’s brisket and then there’s Fran’s Brisket. When prepared properly, nothing is more flavorful and tender than brisket. This recipe is braised slowly in the oven with lots of onions and a simple marinade of burgundy wine. Delicious! There are many good brisket recipes; this one has evolved as it moved from cook to cook. Here’s the story.Fran's Brisket - 2 - IMG_8614_1

Brisket is very flavorful but a rather tough cut of meat. It comes from the front quarter of a steer where there is lots of movement of the animal. So brisket is filled with connective tissue and not much fat in the meat; although there is a thick coat of fat on the outside of the cut. With moist heat and slow cooking the connective tissue softens and the meat tenderizes. The flavors develop as the meat cooks and the result is a delicious meal.

There are many recipes for brisket and ingredients which can enhance the flavor of brisket. I like a teriyaki marinade, the spices of chili powder and cumin complement brisket well and a sweet barbecue sauce brings out the brisket flavor. Pickled corn beef usually comes from this cut of meat. Of course, there is Texas-style smoked brisket but this is another technique and story. In this recipe red burgundy wine flavors the meat as it cooks. And the recipe has lots and lots of onions. So if you are an onion lover, the braised onions are a treat.

Fran’s Brisket Recipe

This recipe began in Boston with Fran Bernstein Waterman (a distant relation to the composer). My sister-in-law met her future husband while attending college at Tulane in New Orleans years ago. She moved to Boston while he was in law school. Maureen met Fran the first summer when she went to visit the family. Maureen says:

Fran always cooked lovely, tasty meals.  I probably had her wonderful brisket that first summer I met Mark’s parents.  Fran always served a salad first.  The salad would be in a bowl on the plate where each of us sat to eat.  After that, Fran always served everyone by filling each plate and passing it down to each person,  We served ourselves for seconds. Sunday’s dinners were always breakfast.

Here’s Fran, the matriarch of the family, on her 90th birthday in (1)

Fran’s recipe is very simple with just 3 ingredients: the brisket, 2 cups burgundy wine and white or yellow onions. It is surprising that, although the recipe is uncomplicated, it turns out delicious. Here are the instructions:

  • Slice whole onions into about 1/2 inch slices.  Keep each ring slice whole.  (I am not sure what the term is for keeping the ring slices whole, so I attached a picture of what I mean.)
  • Line the bottom of a heavy dutch oven with the whole onions slices.  Place brisket on top of onion slices.  Cover the top of the brisket with whole onion slices.  Pour 1 cup wine over the brisket, place lid on dutch oven and cook at 350.
  • Half way through cooking time, turn the meat over and do your best to put the top onions on the bottom of the dutch oven, and most the bottom onions on top of the brisket.  Of course, some onions will not stay whole at this point.  Pour the other cup of wine over the brisket, place the lid back on the dutch oven, and cook until tender.  YUM!

Here are Maureen’s sliced onions. Be generous with the onions–you can’t have too many. They cook down during the cooking process.Maurene's Onions Sliced

Tips for Cooking Brisket

To have a brisket recipe turn out well, I have several tips. Following them will help with tender and flavorful meat.

  • Fran’s brisket recipe is braised which means it is slow cooked in an oven with cooking liquid (burgundy wine) and a tight fitting lid. Maureen used a large Dutch oven with lid. A tight fitting lid (or aluminum foil) is important to keep the liquid surrounding the meat. You don’t want the brisket to become dry–add more liquid if needed. And you can’t cook brisket on the top of a stove by frying it. Just don’t even try. The brisket will be very tough and chewy.
  • A half of a brisket typically weights about 4 pounds; it is a large cut of meat. There is no way to speed the cooking time up. It will probably take from 3 to 4 hours time to cook the brisket. So find an afternoon or day when you can spend several hours in the kitchen; sit back and relax with some good music as the wonderful aromas fill the room. The wait is worth it.
  • Not all pieces of brisket are equal. There is a thick layer of fat on the outside of the cut of meat. The fat adds flavor, but you don’t need too much. Find a reliable butcher and asked for the brisket to be trimmed with most of this fat removed. Otherwise you are paying for alot of fat that you don’t need which you will probably need to trim yourself. Trimmed brisket from a good butcher isn’t inexpensive. But it is rather important to start with a quality cut of meat.
  • The recipe variations add a spice rub and flour (or matzo meal). The brisket is seared in hot oil in a skillet prior to adding it to the dutch oven. This helps keep the spices and juices in the meat while braising which adds to the flavor.

Vicki’s Brisket Recipe Variation

Through the years, Fran’s brisket recipe was passed to Maureen’s sister. Vicki brought the brisket most holiday family gatherings including Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving and Pesach meals. These dinners were where I learned about the recipe.

To adapt the recipe for Passover, Vicki cooked the brisket in sweet Manischewitz wine. She added seasonings — salt, pepper and granulated garlic powder, coated the brisket with matzo meal and seared the meat in Crisco shortening first. Also included in her recipe is basting the meat every 30 minutes. (That’s alot of work but again is delicious!) And look, Vicki increased the onions from 6 to 10. Here’s Vicki’s recipe.Vicki-s Recipe - IMG_6400 (2)

Braised Brisket with Onions – Variation

Here’s my take on the recipe. Essentially, I took Vicki’s recipe and fine-tuned the ingredients while added some steps that Vicki relayed to me over the phone. Still simple ingredients, nothing fancy. I liked the sweetness that the Manischewitz wine added to the recipe. Because I didn’t have this wine in my kitchen when I was preparing the recipe, I used some Port wine and added brown sugar to the meat rub. Here are my ingredients.Ingredients for Braised Brisket with OnionsThe butcher at Maxwell’s Market cut the full brisket in half for me and I froze the other half. You can see how well-trimmed this cut is. Not much fat on the brisket. The onions which I purchased at Maxwell’s Market were large ones; each one weighed one pound. I used 3 onions but easily could have increased the amount.

Vicki pokes holes in the meat and gently pushes the granulated garlic and spice rub into the meat. So I tried this.Poking holes in meat

Here is my spice rub added to meat. I used Kosher salt with is a course salt, black pepper, granulated garlic powder and added just a little brown sugar for sweetness.Spice rub on meat - IMG_8563This piece of meat was too large for my skillet, so I seared it in several sections.Searing Meat -I used a large roasting pan for braising the brisket in the oven and lined it with most of the onion slices. I see that Maureen’s onions are thicker – next time I’ll adjust.Adding onions to roaster - IMG_8565Here’s the meat, more onions and burgundy wine added.Brisket - onions and wine added to roasterAnd cover with aluminum foil, tightly. A Dutch oven with lid definitely would be easier considering Vicki’s recipe calls for basting every half hour.Cover tightly with foil

Half way through the cooking process, add more wine. I found some sweet Port wine on my shelf which I used. At this point, Maureen turns her brisket over and re-arranges the onions. I decided to let everything stay where it was.Adding Port WineDuring the last hour I added new red potatoes and small carrots. Here’s my finished braised brisket.Braised Brisket with Potatoes, Carrots and Onions - IMG_8573Delicious!

Braised Brisket with Onions

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 4 lb brisket (1/2 of a whole 9 lb brisket)
  • 2 to 3 lb onions (3-1 lb very large onions or 10 medium onions)
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar (omit if using sweet red wine)
  • 2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 tsp granulated garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp flour (or matzo meal)
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup red cooking wine or burgundy wine,
  • 1 cup Port wine or,
  • OR 2 cups Manischewitz wine in place of above wines,
  • 2 lb small red potatoes (about 12 potatoes)
  • 1 cups small whole carrots

Method and Steps

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. If needed, trim fat from brisket leaving a 1/2 inch around outside top. Set aside.
  3. Peel and cut onions into 1/2″ rings leaving onion slice rings intact.
  4. Mix seasonings of brown sugar (omit if using Manischewitz wine), Kosher salt, granulated garlic powder and black pepper. Poke holes in both sides of brisket with sharp knife. Push seasonings into the holes and spread around surfaces of brisket.
  5. Pat flour or matzo meal onto the surface of the brisket.
  6. In large skillet, heat oil to medium high. Add brisket and sear for several minutes on each side until browned. Sear the brisket in sections if too large for skillet. Stove temperature needs to be hot, but not too hot to burn brisket. Add more oil if needed.
  7. Line about 2/3 of the onion rings on the bottom of a large roasting pan or Dutch oven.
  8. Top with seared brisket (fatty side up) and remaining 1/3 onion slices. Pour 1 cup red cooking wine or burgundy wine over the brisket.
  9. Cover tightly with aluminum foil or lid of Dutch oven. Place in 350 degree pre-heated oven.
  10. Braise for 1 hour. Uncover and baste the brisket with the cooking liquid in the bottom of the pan. Replace lid or aluminum foil and return to oven.
  11. After 2 hours, baste again. Add 1 cup of Port wine, pouring it over the brisket and onions. Replace lid or aluminum foil and continue to braise in oven.
  12. After 3 hours baste again. If brisket is dry, add more red cooking wine or burgundy wine. Add red potatoes and carrots. Replace lid or aluminum foil and return to oven.
  13. Check for tenderness after 3-1/2 hours. If needed cook an additional 1/2 hour.
  14. Remove brisket, onions, potatoes and carrots from cooking liquid.
  15. If desired, strain and transfer cooking liquid to small pot on stove and reduce until slightly thickened.
  16. Slice brisket on the crosswise grain, serve with the braised onions, potatoes, carrots and pass cooking liquid.

Enjoy Braised Brisket with Onions at any holiday meal and Vicki’s variation for Passover.Fran's Brisket - IMG_8577_1



1 thought on “Fran’s Brisket for Onion Lovers and Variations

  1. Pingback: Kristy’s Matzah Crack | beyondgumbo

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