Decisions, decisions. You want to try something new for Rosh Hashanah, and yet… chances are you’ll go back to brisket, for its richness, for its comfort and for its history laden in tradition.
How did brisket become Jewish food anyway? “The earliest Jewish recipes for brisket were mostly from Ashkenazi Jews from Germany,” writes Stephanie Pierson in The Brisket Book. “What these recipes lacked in creativity, they made up for in familiar satisfaction and bulk. Ashkenazi food habits ultimately became known as ‘typical Jewish food.’”
We Jews do not have a monopoly on brisket, however. The Brisket Book showcases recipes from such far-flung places as Cuba, Ireland and Korea, not to mention dozens of barbecue preparations from Texas, Kansas City, New York and New Orleans. Yet, Pierson points out, the ascendancy of brisket in Jewish kitchens can be attributed to the kosher laws, our love of tradition, and economics. Since according to kashruth only the forequarters of the cow may be eaten, brisket is acceptable. And for those who could afford it, back in the old country, brisket was served on the Sabbath or holidays, wrapping it in loving memories of family and community. “Brisket will never be a meal for one,” Pierson quips.
“It started as a rare indulgence and is a rare indulgence again today, for two reasons: today’s rising prices…and the fact that rich, fat-marbled red meat is now anathema to pretty much everyone.””
What is the difference between brisket and pot roast? Brisket is a cut of beef requiring slow cooking; pot roast is what you make with it (or with other cuts). The secret of the brisket featured here from food historian and founder of New York’s Kitchen Arts & Letters Nach Waxman is slicing the meat halfway through the cooking, a technique he learned from his mother-in-law. “Interim slicing lets every piece be exposed to heat and juices and allows the flavour to penetrate the entire brisket. If you slice later, it’s going to be less flavourful. I find that the typical unsliced brisket has a beautiful exterior, but inside the meat is gray. By slicing halfway through the cooking and reassembling, every piece essentially gets to be an outside piece. The slices are beautiful; the meat is much firmer and is less likely to either fall apart or shred.”
Nach Waxman’s brisket of beef
o 1 (6-lb.) first-cut beef brisket, trimmed so that a thin layer of fat remains
o all-purpose flour, for dusting
freshly ground black pepper
o 3 tbsp. corn oil
o 8 medium onions, peeled and thickly sliced
o 3 tbsp. tomato paste
o kosher salt
o 2 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
o 1 carrot, peeled and trimmed
Preheat oven to 375.
Lightly dust brisket with flour, then sprinkle with pepper to taste. Heat oil over medium-high heat in large ovenproof enameled cast-iron pot or other heavy pot with a lid just large enough to hold brisket snuggly. Add brisket to pot and brown on both sides until crusty brown areas appear on surface here and there, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Transfer brisket to platter, turn up heat a bit, then add onions to pot and stir constantly with wooden spoon, scraping up any browned bits stuck to bottom of pot. Cook until onions have softened and developed a rich brown colour but aren’t yet caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes.
Turn off heat and place brisket and any accumulated juices on top of onions. Spread tomato paste over brisket as if you were icing a cake. Sprinkle with salt and more pepper to taste, then add garlic and carrots to pot. Cover part, transfer to oven, and cook 1 1/2 hours.
Transfer brisket to cutting board and, using very sharp knife, slice meat across grain into approximately 1/8-in.-thick slices. Return slices to pot overlapping them at an angle so you can see a bit of a top edge of each slice. End result should resemble original unsliced brisket leaning slightly backwards. Check seasonings and, if absolutely necessary, add 2 to 3 tsp. of water to pot.
Cover pot and return to oven. Lower heat to 325 and cook brisket until fork-tender, about 2 hours. Check once or twice during cooking to make sure liquid is not bubbling away. If it is, add a few more tsp. 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 slices. It is ready to serve with its juices, but, in fact, it’s even better the second day.