If you ask most Jews to name their favorite Jewish foods, brisket would be high on the list, along with bagels, knishes and kugel, none of which were invented by Jews, by the way. Impoverished Jews of Eastern Europe’s shtetls could not afford the more tender cuts from the rib and chuck, but talented cooks created delicious dishes from the cheaper, less desirable parts of the cow, such as the brisket.
“Brisket is the meat covering the cow’s breastbone, situated between the foreleg and below the short ribs (flanken),” explains rabbi and food historian Gil Marks in the “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food” (Wiley, $40). “Ashkenazic brisket is always made with onions, and plenty of them. After the mid 19th century, potatoes and carrots were frequently added to provide more sustenance. In early 20th century America, as Eastern European immigrations began rising up the socioeconomic ladder, brisket would often appear for Sabbath dinner and other special occasions, converting a rare treat into regular Sabbath and holiday fare. Soon American Jews began adapting brisket to contemporary taste and using new commercial condiments, for example, glazing the meat or adding canned cranberry sauce, onion soup mix, and/or chili sauce.”
In America brisket has been prized by non-Jews as well for braising, barbecue, smoking and curing. And when it comes to any of those techniques, award-winning author and TV host Steven Raichlen wrote the book—literally—31 books in all, including the international best sellers “How to Grill,” “Barbecue Bible,” “Planet Barbecue” and “Project Smoke.” Now this “Gladiator of Grilling,” as Oprah dubbed him, has written the ultimate brisket cookbook, “The Brisket Chronicles” (Workman, $19.95), including his 50 best brisket recipes with step-by-step foolproof instructions, whether you want to barbeque, grill, smoke, cure, boil or, of course, braise it.
“Long before my indoctrination into barbecue, I ate brisket,” Raichlen writes. “So did every other Jewish kid in the neighborhood. Brisket was the ultimate holiday dish, and nobody made it better than my aunt, Annette Farber. Braised for hours with onions and carrots and sweet red kosher wine (was there any other kind?), lavished with apricots, prunes, and other dried fruits, it was the sort of sweet-salty, meaty-fruity mash-up typical of so much Ashkenazi cuisine. These days, my family is more likely to eat our brisket slow-smoked like they do in Texas, but at least once a year we dust off Aunt Annette’s recipe for a braised brisket that transcends wood smoke.”
Note that by carving the brisket midway through the cooking process, it slices quite neatly and the slices are all bathed in the cooking liquid, resulting in a more tender and flavorful dish. Be careful not to over-trim the meat, he advises. You can use a roasting pan covered tightly with foil if you don’t have a Dutch oven, but a Dutch oven is preferred. Finally, if you like, add a peeled, seeded, sliced lemon, as Aunt Annette did, to offset the sweetness of the dried fruit.
“The Brisket Chronicles” offers tips and techniques for choosing the right cuts as well as handling, prepping and storage; recipes for accompaniments, such as slaws, salads and sauces, even a brisket chocolate chip cookie!—don’t knock it until you try it – and whole chapters devoted to what to do with leftovers, such as the Ultimate Brisket Hash featured here.
“This recipe calls for barbecued brisket, but equally delectable hash can be made from homemade corned beef or pastrami,” notes Raichlen. “I believe in leftover brisket for breakfast—especially in hash. This one derives its firepower from poblano peppers and sriracha. Hash is infinitely customizable: swap the poblanos for bell peppers, for example, or the potatoes for yams or yucca. If you’re used to the usual corned beef hash, the intense smoky flavor of this brisket hash will come as a revelation.” When subbing corned beef or pastrami for the brisket, use onions instead of shallots and red or yellow bell peppers instead of poblanos. Raichlen also suggests replacing sriracha with Louisiana-style hot sauce such as Crystal or Tabasco.
Aunt Annette’s Holiday Brisket with Sweet Wine and Dried Fruits
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 brisket flat (3 to 4 pounds)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 carrots, trimmed and peeled (1 diced and 3 cut crosswise into 3-inch chunks)
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1½ cups sweet kosher Concord grape wine (such as Manischewitz), or 1 1/2 cups dry red wine plus ¼ cup granulated or brown sugar
2 dried bay leaves
2 to 3 cups beef or chicken broth or stock (preferably homemade or low-sodium) or water
1½ cups dried apricots
1½ cups pitted prunes
1 cup golden raisins
- Preheat oven to 300°F.
- Using a sharp knife, trim brisket, leaving layer of fat at least ¼-inch thick. Generously season on all sides with salt and pepper.
- Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add brisket and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Transfer meat to platter; discard all but 3 tablespoons of fat.
- Add onion, chopped carrot, celery, garlic, and 3 tablespoons parsley to pot. Cook over medium-high heat until softened and lightly browned, 5 minutes.
- Return brisket to pot; spoon half the vegetables in the pot over it. Add wine, bay leaves, and enough stock to barely cover brisket. Cover pot, place in oven, and braise until semi-tender, 1½ hours.
- Remove pot from oven; transfer brisket to welled cutting board. Using a sharp knife or electric knife, thinly slice brisket across grain. Stir half the carrot chunks, apricots, prunes, and raisins into juices in pot. Using a spatula, neatly lay sliced brisket on top. Pour in any juices from cutting board and arrange remaining carrot chunks and dried fruits on top. Season with salt and pepper. Add additional stock as needed just to cover meat and fruit.
- Cover pot; return to oven. Continue braising until meat is tender enough to cut with a fork, another 1 to 1½ hours, or as needed. If there’s too much cooking liquid (brisket should be moist, not soupy), uncover pot for last half hour.
Transfer brisket slices to platter. Using slotted spoon, transfer fruits and vegetables to platter and arrange around meat. Pour pan juices into gravy boat with fat separator. Spoon some gravy over meat and fruit, serving the rest on the side. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon of parsley over meat and get ready for Jewish holiday awesomeness.
The Ultimate Breakfast Hash
Yield: 2 servings (multiply as desired)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 or 3 shallots or 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped (¾ cup)
1 poblano, stemmed, seeded, and diced
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and diced
(for spicier hash, leave seeds in)
2 cups coarsely or finely diced barbecued brisket
2 cups coarsely or finely diced cooked potatoes or other root vegetables
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, for frying eggs (optional)
2 to 4 large eggs (preferably farm-fresh and organic (optional)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon sriracha or your favorite hot sauce
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives, parsley, cilantro, and/or other fresh herb, for garnish
- Heat oil in 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots, poblano, and jalapeños, and cook, stirring with wooden spoon, until browned, 3 minutes.
2. Stir in brisket and potatoes; continue cooking until potatoes are browned, 3 to 5 minutes more.
3. Meanwhile, heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. When oil starts sizzling, crack in eggs. Fry until cooked to taste, flipping once with spatula, 2 minutes per side for yolks that are still a little runny (that’s how I like them).
4. Stir Worcestershire sauce and sriracha into hash and cook 1 minute. Add salt and pepper to taste. Hash should be highly seasoned. Serve right from skillet, sliding fried eggs on top. Sprinkle with chopped chives and dig in.
Source: “Brisket Chronicles” by Steven Raichlen
Jlife Food Editor JUDY BART KANCIGOR is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.