Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Jewish Soul Food

Grandmother-of-Food-may-she-rest-in-peace (that's how she always spoke of the dead, so it's only fair) made the best brisket. I'm sure that if your grandmother made brisket, you think that her brisket was the best, but you probably didn't taste Grandmother-of-Food's brisket. Of course we probably didn't taste your grandmother's brisket either, but there are three of us and only one of you, and we know.

We know.

Like most good food, it was simple to make, and it's something we all make occasionally, and we fiddle with the recipe a bit, but it's usually the same basic thing. I made one a few days ago, so I took a few photographs for the blog.

Start with a 4-5 lb. first-cut (also called the "flat end") brisket of beef. It shrinks, so smaller briskets aren't worth the bother, and it gets better each day, so you'll eat the leftovers, don't worry. If you can only get small briskets, because the people who cut meat in your neighborhood don't know how to make it, then buy a couple of them. You can cook them in the same pot. The full brisket includes the second cut, which has a lot of fat running through it, which you may like, but we never cared for it. The first cut used to come with about a quarter inch of fat on the top when Grandmother-of-Food made it. Today butchers cut it a little leaner, but if you have a butcher who will cut meat to order, you could ask for it that way, and it will add flavor to the meat. You can cut it off before serving it, if you don't want to eat that much fat.

Season the meat on both sides with coarse salt, freshly ground pepper and paprika to taste, about eight whole cloves of garlic, and about three whole bay leaves. Grandmother-of-food also always used one bay leaf, but once I ordered brisket at the Carnegie Deli and noticed that they used several bay leaves, and it was good, so I use a few bay leaves. Don't tell Grandmother-of-Food-may-she-rest-in-peace.

Brown on both sides in a large heavy stewpot with a good cover on the stovetop. Grandmother-of-food used a six-quart aluminum dutch oven, which I still have, and which is a little small for a brisket that large, but the meat shrinks to fit by the end of the process. In these pictures I'm using a larger copper rondeau of about 10-11 quarts.
This was her thing: lift up the brisket and line the bottom of the pot with thickly sliced onions broken up into rings. She would use a large Spanish yellow onion. Father-of-Food reminded me that she was a bookkeeper for a wholesale produce firm, so she always brought home perfect looking big onions, potatoes and celery. I'm using a medium large Mayan Sweet onion and a medium sized red onion, because those are in season right now, and the sweet onions add a good flavor to the brisket. Notice that you don't need to add any liquid to the brisket. It will release a lot of its own juice. The meat shrinks, but it's got to go somewhere, nu?

Put the brisket back in the pot fat side up. Cover and cook in the oven at 350-degrees F. for about an hour and a half. Go do something else. Don't open the oven. Don't take off the cover. Leave it alone. You probably need to vacuum or do the laundry. Go, go.

Peel and cut up about eight carrots and one or two pounds of potatoes. I used red fingerling potatoes this time, cutting a band around them to prevent them from bursting. Grandmother of food usually used large white potatoes cut into about six wedges each. Now you can open the pot. See all that nice juice? I told you. Put the vegetables around the meat and baste. From this point, you should baste every half hour or so, and you can test to see whether the brisket is done in about an hour by putting a fork in it and seeing if the fork pulls out easily. Total cooking time, depending on the size and shape of the meat and the real temperature of the oven should be 2.5 to 3.5 hours. This one took three hours.

Slice the brisket straight down against the grain of the meat. If you cut it with the grain, the meat will be stringy and tough. If your grandmother made a good brisket, she probably cut it this way, and you probably had some other relatives who cut it the wrong way, and you probably always went home after dinner and talked about how they didn't know how to cut the brisket. If your grandmother cut the brisket the wrong way, then, I'm sorry, she didn't make a good brisket.

Spoon the juice from the pot with the onions over the meat, and serve with the vegetables and farfel. What's farfel, you ask? Well, that's another blog. Grandmother-of-Food made the best farfel.


Family of Food said...

Now I really feel that we are giving away family secrets.

It's funny though, a friend and I were just discussing brisket and he gave me a recipe for slow cooker brisket. I got a slow cooker for the holidays. I may just combine the two methods.

Anonymous said...

Great post bringing back great memories.

Father of Food said...

I remember wiping my plate clean with fresh rye bread.

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