I just happened to have a brisket in my refrigerator, because I had ordered a food delivery from the South Brooklyn Buying Club, which included said brisket. Normally, I do not cook or eat a lot of meat, but their meat selection looked so good, I decided to make what was an atypical order, and thus the brisket, which defrosted overnight in my fridge, and was ready to cook.
I do associate brisket with celebratory Jewish holidays, and certainly ate my share of brisket at my grandparents' houses when I was young. I have a vague memory of yellow raisins and maybe grated bits of carrot in the gravy of Grandma Clara's brisket. I would soak up any gravy left on my plate with slices of challah. Somewhere in my marriage I did buy and cook a brisket, but not very successfully. I think it was probably tough and chewy, and definitely shrunk considerably, as briskets are known to do. What I learned in cooking this brisket today is that the cooking style is a braise which will tenderize the meat.
My association of brisket with Jewish holidays is spot on. According to Wikipedia, "Brisket is especially popular as a holiday main course, usually served at Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Hanukkah, and on Shabbat. For reasons of economics and kashrut, it was historically one of the more popular cuts of beef among Ashkenazi Jews."
It is a long way from Ashkenazi Jews and their braised brisket, to Southern Barbeque, but brisket is a part of that culture as well. History tells us that the Texas barbeque culture was partially created when butchers who emigrated from Germany and Czechoslovakia had trouble selling this slow-cooking cut of meat, and then created a way to dry smoke and preserve it.
But back to a Jewish braise of brisket. Because brisket is such a large cut of meat needing such a long cooking time, it was not appropriate to use as an everyday meal. Thus, brisket came to be served on special occasions, such as the Jewish Holidays. Everyone will recall their family holiday meals and claim that their bobe's brisket was the best. There are as many brisket recipes as there are families that celebrate the holidays together. "The Brisket Book: A Love Story With Recipes" by Stephanie Person includes 30 of those brisket recipes, handed down through the ages.
Rules of thumb when purchasing brisket are to 1) Avoid meat that was strictly grass fed because it isn’t fatty enough. Go with grain fed instead.; 2) Purchase your brisket from a butcher. Avoid vacuum packed cuts because those could have been sitting the case for months.; and 3) Leave the deckle (the fatty part) on, even if your recipe calls for the first cut. This ensures that your brisket will be juicy and full of flavor.
I found Nach Waxman's famous brisket recipe on the Food52 web site, and was hooked because their "genius recipe" seemed easy peasy to me. Very few ingredients, and did not call for wine, canned soda, or other such things not in my larder. Because the total baking time is three to four hours, I felt as if I were babysitting a sleeping child. I enjoyed reading more of "In the Land of Men" by Adrienne Miller as the brisket baked. If you are looking for a nosh while your own brisket bakes, try preparing another recipe from Cooking the Kitchen as you wait, such as Bruschetta with Egg & Avocado, or Eggamole.
Nach Waxman is the owner of the Kitchen Arts & Letters cookbook store. His brisket recipe first appeared in 1989 in "The New Basics Cookbook," by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukens, who authored the famous "Silver Palate Cookbook."
What makes Nach Waxman's recipe unique is the amount of onions sauteed in the juices of the seared brisket and then layered underneath; the tomato paste slathered on the top of the meat before baking; and that the brisket is sliced at the mid-baking point, allowing the meat to self-baste during the remainder of the baking time. It is rumored that Waxman's brisket recipe was used at the Obama's first White House seder.
I just took my cooked brisket out of my oven, and ate a couple of slices. The meat was tender and flavorful, but the star of the show for me was the jammy onion sauce accompanying the meat, which I slathered atop my portion. It will make you want to go back for seconds. Do try this recipe and enjoy!
A braised brisket, traditionally served on Jewish Holidays.
- 1 (6-pound) beef brisket including deckle (fat)
- All-purpose flour, for dusting
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tbsp corn oil (or other neutral oil)
- 8 medium onions, peeled and thickly sliced
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- Kosher salt
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
- 1 carrot, peeled and trimmed
Preheat the oven to 375°F
Lightly dust the brisket with flour, then sprinkle with pepper to taste. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large ovenproof enameled cast iron pot or other heavy pot with a lid just large enough to hold the brisket snugly.
Add the brisket to the pot and brown on both sides until crusty brown areas appear on the surface here and there, 5 to 7 minutes per side.
Transfer the brisket to a platter, turn up the heat a bit, then add the onions to the pot and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Cook until the onions have softened and developed a rich brown color but aren’t yet caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes.
Turn off the heat and place the brisket and any accumulated juices on top of the onions.
Spread the tomato paste over the brisket as if you were icing a cake. Sprinkle with salt and more pepper to taste, then add the garlic and carrot to the pot. Cover the pot, transfer to the oven, and cook the brisket for 11⁄2 hours.
Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and, using a very sharp knife, slice the meat across the grain into approximately 1/8-inch-thick slices. Return the slices to the pot, overlapping them at an angle so that you can see a bit of the top edge of each slice. The end result should resemble the original unsliced brisket leaning slightly backward. Check the seasonings and, if absolutely necessary, add 2 or 3 teaspoons of water to the pot.
Cover the pot and return to the oven. Lower the heat to 325°F and cook the brisket until it is fork-tender, about 2 hours. Check once or twice during cooking to make sure that the liquid is not bubbling away. If it is, add a few more teaspoons of water — but not more. Also, each time you check, spoon some of the liquid on top of the roast so that it drips down between the slices.
It is ready to serve with its juices, but, in fact, it’s even better the second day.