Looking for ways to eat well cheaply? Look no further than a tasty cut of brisket, says Jenni - it's a right royal treat!
For all the current talk about using cheaper cuts of meat, it's surprising brisket isn't easier to find. My supermarket doesn't sell it and you may need to ask your butcher ahead of time to get your hands on it. However, I've picked it up at the farmers' market and, before that came into being, would buy it online as part of a bulk meat order from an organic farmer-butcher.
Brisket is the 'man-boobs' of the steer (as my friend Claire says) and runs from the bottom of the neck down under the ribs. It's great for casseroles and pot-roasts but is also much more versatile than that. In the USA it's very much associated with barbecue and smoking, as well as salt beef. John Torode, who has recently written a whole book on beef, says brisket's wide, comparatively thin and even shape makes it the best cut for pastrami; he also uses it for a daube-style dish with red wine, port, Guinness, spices and fish sauce.
Salted brisket served with a fiery beetroot and horseradish relish harks back to traditional Jewish fare. While a few recipes see it layered up with bread that eventually dissolves to give a sauce. I also like the sound of Jill Dupleix's Chinese braised brisket with butternut squash and this simple stout-flavoured pot-roast.
Normally, however, I do a variation on a recipe from the late American food writer Lee Bailey. It's easy: you rub the meat all over with a mixture of Spanish smoked paprika, cumin, oregano, salt, sugar, pepper and fresh crushed garlic, wrap it in a double layer of foil and slow-roast it on a tray at 110°C for 4-7 hours, depending on the size of the joint. It doesn't really need gravy, though you can make one from all the luscious juices - I tend to save them to bung in soup a few days later.
For me brisket is a cost-effective way of having hearty organic roasts more often and if you like meat cooked well-done it's arguably the best cut to buy. No, it's not the same as sirloin or forerib, but it is good in its own way. A kilo of top-quality rolled, ready-to-roast brisket will cost a tenner or less; the same of sirloin can be £20-£35 organic or not (that's not including delivery, but even once you add that in, the prices of organic brisket compare favourably with that of premium meats in supermarkets).
Funnily enough, one of the cheapest places to buy organic brisket (and topside) is from HRH Queen Elizabeth II's Windsor Farm Shop, which sells produce from the Royal Farms and other small British producers. Their super beef is mostly from the Sussex breed and the brisket is just £6.95 per kilo. Delivery is £9.90 in England (roughly the same as most of the other organic delivery services I've tried) though, frankly, there's extra value in seeing the neighbours' nets and blinds flickering with excitement when a Royal Farms van turns up at your door. That's the sort of treat we all need at least once in our life.