Canelons: Brisket Canelones

September 13, 2018 Updated: November 5, 2018

Canelons: Brisket Canelones

During their own festes majors, all towns in Catalonia feature canelons. The iconic feast dish, sheets of egg-based pasta rolled into tubes, stuffed with a variety of roasted meats, and topped with a rich, creamy sauce and grated cheese, always symbolizes opulence and festivity. Canelons take effort to make, so it helps to start them a day ahead and enlist family members to help. The twist I add is to use brisket—a choice inspired by my adopted town of Austin, Texas, and its love for the barbecued variety.

Serves 6 as a main dish

Brisket and Mushroom Filling:

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon mild chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 beef brisket (4 pounds), fat trimmed to 1/8-inch thickness
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh curly parsley
  • 8 ounces sliced mixed fresh mushrooms, such as oyster, portobello, and shiitake
  • 1 cup Sofregit or store-bought sofrito

Béchamel Sauce:

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) salted butter
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Kosher salt


  • Butter for the baking dish
  • 18 Spanish canelons pasta sheets (see note)
  • 4 ounces Manchego cheese, grated

Make the brisket: In a small bowl or cup, combine 1 tablespoon salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, the cumin, chili powder, and both sugars. Rub the spice mixture all over the brisket on a large sheet pan. Cover with plastic and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 5 hours or up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Heat a large griddle or skillet over high heat. When the pan is smoking, add the brisket and sear until browned on all sides, about 15 minutes total, turning a few times. Transfer the brisket fat-side down to a large, shallow baking dish and wrap the dish tightly in a double layer of foil. Roast until the brisket shreds easily when pierced with a fork, about 6 hours.

Transfer the brisket to a large bowl and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, about 30 minutes, shred the meat into bite-size pieces.

While the brisket cools, make the mushrooms: In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oils over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the garlic and parsley and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid and become lightly browned, about 10 minutes, stirring often. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool until just warm, about 15 minutes.

Make the filling: Transfer the shredded brisket and mushrooms to a food processor and pulse until chopped (see note). Add the sofregit and pulse again until the filling is combined and finely chopped but not pureed. You can refrigerate the filling in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Make the béchamel sauce: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter is foamy, add the onion and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook slowly until the onion is translucent, about 15 minutes, stirring often. Stir the flour into the onion and cook until it bubbles and looks foamy about 5 minutes. Add the milk and bring to a simmer, whisking almost constantly until the sauce thickens 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the nutmeg and 1/2 tablespoon salt.

Assemble the dish: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Butter a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain and pat dry between clean kitchen towels.

Lay out the cooked pasta sheets on a clean work surface and add about 1/4 cup filling in a line along one of the short sides. Fold the pasta over the filling, and continue to roll up and enclose. Arrange the canelons seam-side down in the prepared baking dish. Pour the béchamel over the canelons, then scatter on the Manchego. Bake the canelons until browned and bubbling about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly and serve warm.

El consell: I use Gallo brand canelons pasta sheets. If you can’t find them, use 3 fresh lasagna sheets and cut them into 5 x 6-inch rectangles. For the best texture in the filling, pass the shredded brisket and mushrooms through the coarse holes of a meat grinder before mixing in the sofregit.

Recipe reprinted with permission from “Catalan Food: Culture and Flavors From the Mediterranean” by Daniel Olivella with Caroline Wright. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of The Crown Publishing Group.

“Catalan Food: Culture and Flavors From the Mediterranean” by Daniel Olivella with Caroline Wright ($30).