While smoked brisket is not exactly a traditional meal for the winter holidays, it’s what Texans reach for when there’s any reason to celebrate. Whether you order a few pounds from your favorite local barbecue joint, or have finally perfected smoking brisket on your own, you’re bound to be blessed with leftovers. And brisket may be more versatile than you realize. With these three recipes, you’ll be eating well off leftover brisket straight into New Year’s Eve.
My favorite way to enjoy leftover brisket is by making lettuce wraps loosely inspired by laab, a dish from Southeast Asia. Traditionally, laab is made by cooking ground meat with shallots, green onions, and toasted rice powder. It’s then dressed with lime juice, fish sauce, and chile flakes, and served with sticky rice and soft lettuce. Pailin Chongchitnant, founder of the recipe blog Hot Thai Kitchen, has a recipe for the classic version of this dish, and I highly recommend making laab just as she says to.
My version was born after a long day of work and no plans for dinner. We had leftover brisket from Austin’s la Barbecue, half a head of butter lettuce, a handful of sad cilantro, and one cucumber in our fridge; a lime on the counter; and sticky rice ready to cook in the pantry. I lit up when I thought of Chongchitnant’s recipe.
The linchpin to laab is in the toasted rice powder, which is made by cooking raw glutinous rice in a skillet until it’s a deep golden brown, then pulverizing it into a powder with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. The smoke of the brisket, the nuttiness of the toasted rice, the tart lime juice, the subtle funk from the fish sauce, and the heat from the chile flakes make for an addictive combo that is truly worth the effort.
To feed three to four people, you’ll need about a half pound of brisket, which should be roughly chopped or torn into pieces. If your brisket is super fatty, cut off the fat and chop it into small pieces and melt it in a pan on medium-high heat before adding one small sliced shallot, a teaspoon or so of chile flakes, and two chopped green onions. If you are working with a leaner piece of meat, pour about a half tablespoon of oil in a pan in place of your brisket fat. Cook until shallots are almost transparent, then add about a teaspoon of fish sauce if you have it, the juice from one lime, and a spoonful of honey. Cook for about a minute, then stir in your brisket and about two tablespoons of that toasted rice powder (which can also be purchased at your local Asian grocery store) until it’s all heated thoroughly. Serve with lettuce, fresh mint, cilantro, green onion, carrots, cucumbers (any fresh, crunchy vegetables are great here), and a bowl of sticky rice for the table. A squeeze of lime and chopped Thai chiles seal the deal. Barbecue sauce would be a good topping, too.
Sometimes leftover brisket is scarce, and there isn’t enough to make laab for the whole family. On those days, I’ll make a quick lunch of roughly chopped meat wrapped in romaine or butter lettuce, sprinkled with herbs I have on hand, a scoop of rice, and a generous squeeze of sriracha. No toasted rice and no fish sauce, but a deep feeling of gratitude for the genius of Thai food and leftover protein that doesn’t require any cooking.
Who needs a recipe for nachos? Probably not you, Texan. But you may need a reminder that this is a great way to use up your leftovers. If you have canned beans, drain them in a colander so your nachos won’t get soggy as they bake. While the beans are draining, spread corn tortilla chips onto a parchment- or foil-lined sheet pan. Chop your leftover brisket. Add a small spoonful of beans to each chip as well as a piece or two of chopped meat and sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 400 degrees F, and when it’s out of the oven, top with jalapeños, sour cream, salsa, and your favorite fixins.
Mushroom Toast With Brisket and Thyme
Toast is typically relegated to the ranks of appetizers and breakfast food, but with a hearty topping of barbecue and mushrooms, it makes for a great lunch or dinner. Add just enough chopped mushrooms (any kind will do) to a hot skillet, with no oil. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until they are a nice golden brown. Add a tablespoon of butter, a minced clove of garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook for a minute or so before adding a splash of white wine or sherry. Cook for another minute, and stir in chopped or shredded brisket until everything is thoroughly heated. Spoon over sourdough toast (bonus points for pan-frying the bread in a bit of olive oil to get it crispy beforehand). Top with fresh thyme leaves and more salt and pepper, and serve with a tangy salad.
The best thing about coming home with leftover barbecue is knowing I’ll have one component of a meal completely cooked and ready to use, which brings me one step closer to supper. As we celebrate winter holidays this month, consider your leftover meat a gift.