I ate a lot of brisket growing up. My family is Jewish, so it always appeared on special occasions, especially holidays. My mom’s recipe has a lot of ingredients—beer and tomato and soy sauce—that reduce and reduce and reduce into a thick gravy. This version is the exact opposite. The ingredients are minimal, the method is unkosher. Instead of meat and milk staying separate, they join forces. I borrowed this technique from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, where she braises pork shoulder in milk, yielding the tenderest meat, the richest gravy. Call it an untraditional new tradition. —Emma Laperruque
Add the brisket to a bowl. Season all over with the salt and black pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 2 days.
Preheat the oven to 325° F. Melt the butter in a 4-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the brisket, fatty side down. Sear for 4 to 5 minutes, until deeply browned. Flip and sear the other side. Transfer the brisket to a plate. Add the onions and garlic to the pot. Season with salt and toss in the rendered beef fat. Return the brisket to the pan on top of the onion bed. Pour the milk all around. The brisket should look like an island, partly submerged but still peeking out. Add the bay leaves to the milk. Sprinkle salt everywhere. Bring the milk to a simmer, then cover and transfer to the oven.
Roast for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, until the meat is very tender.
Transfer the brisket to a plate and tent with foil. The sauce looks odd! Brown and clustery! That’s just right. Add the potatoes and stir. If the mixture is dry, add enough milk to create a saucy bath—I started with 3/4 cup (remember, this will further reduce and become your gravy). Set on the stove over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook until the potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Thickly slice the brisket against the grain and return to the pot. If there’s not enough gravy for your liking, no worries, just add more milk and simmer until flavorful. Discard the bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with fresh herbs and horseradish to pass around.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.