As a kid, I learned to expect brisket at almost every holiday dinner, except for Thanksgiving. Even if we went to the home of one of my six aunts, we had brisket. Usually, it was the brisket recipe du jour, made with coke or onion soup or potatoes and carrots. I was sure there were only about four or five ways to make a brisket and that my mother and my aunts knew them all and rotated recipes each holiday. As we got older, my cousins and I often tried to guess which kind would come out of the oven.
So here we are more than a decade into the new millennium and, still, nothing says “holiday” like a brisket cooked to perfection. The old recipes have, for the most part, disappeared and have been replaced by sweet and sour, hot and spicy, and marinated to perfection. There are more brisket recipes than one could fit into even a large cookbook, and if you google “brisket,” you get more than 6 million sites to look at. The second site, after Wikipedia, is “Beef Brisket – Jewish Cooking.” That says it all: We Jews are the royalty of brisket!
Note: To easily check if a brisket is done, insert two forks going in opposite directions. Pull gently, and the meat should give easily with no resistance.
Garlic and Herb Brisket
This is a garlic lover’s dream!
3 heads of garlic, about 30-40 cloves
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5-7 pound brisket, trimmed to 1/4 inch
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2-4 tablespoons dry red wine
3-4 cups beef stock
4-5 fresh thyme sprigs
salt and pepper to taste
Boil a small pot of water. While the water is heating, break apart the garlic cloves. Discard the center stem. Drop the garlic in the water and let it boil for about 30-45 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a clean dishtowel to drain. Let cool for a few minutes and then you can easily peel the cloves.
Heat a large skillet and add the olive oil. Add the peeled garlic and shake the pan to coat the cloves with oil and heat them evenly. Let them cook until fragrant and just slightly golden. Pour the oil and the garlic into the bottom of a large roasting pan and distribute the garlic evenly around the pan.
Place the meat into the same skillet and sear on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the meat to the roasting pan.
Add the vinegar and wine to the skillet and deglaze the pan. Add the thyme and stir, cooking for about 3-5 minutes. Add this liquid and the herbs to the roasting pan. Pour the broth over the brisket and season with a bit of pepper and salt if you like. Cover tightly and place in a 325- degree oven. Check the meat after about an hour and make sure the liquid is bubbling gently. If it is boiling too vigorously, turn the oven to 300. Re-cover tightly and place back in the oven. Check every 30-40 minutes, baste the meat as needed and add more broth or wine, if needed. Cook for 3-4 hours or until very tender.
For the Gravy: Remove the meat to a large platter and then strain the gravy into a large saucepan. Discard the thyme. Mash about half the garlic through the strainer into the liquid. Mix the liquid and place over medium heat. Let simmer until slightly reduced and thickened a bit. Taste and add more of the garlic if you like. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over the sliced brisket. Serves 8-14.
Simple Brisket for a Crowd
This is as close as I think anyone can get to a brisket from the shtetl. It is a simple one-pot holiday meal.
8-10 pound whole brisket, trimmed
5 pounds onions, sliced
5 pounds carrots, peeled and trimmed
2 bunches celery, cleaned and cut in into large pieces
4-5 large leeks, white part only, cleaned and cut into
2 heads garlic, peeled and finely minced
2-4 bay leaves
salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Generously oil a large roasting pan. For this I suggest using a doubled full steam table pan. Place the onions in the bottom of the pan and place the meat on top. Scatter the rest of the veggies around the pan, season with salt and pepper, cover tightly with heavy foil and place in a 350 degree oven. Let roast 4-6 hours or until the meat falls apart. Check every 40-50 minutes after the first hour, and add some broth or water if the pan is too dry. Serves about 15-20.
Vinegar and Brown Sugar Braised Brisket
I try to make other brisket recipes, but no matter how spectacular, they always elicit frowns because they are not this recipe! You can cut this recipe in half for smaller groups.
1 whole brisket (about 8-12 pounds), trimmed
3 pounds onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup white vinegar
1 2/3 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 cups ketchup
1 cup water
Peel and slice the onions (a food processor does it in an instant). Set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat, and add the oil. Add the onions and sauté until they begin to turn golden brown. It is OK if the skillet has a lot of liquid in it. It will help flavor the sauce. Cook until golden brown but not caramelized, just a nice amber shade.
Note: For this brisket, I use a doubled full steam pan and heavy-duty foil.
Brush the bottom of the roasting pan with canola oil. Rinse the brisket well and place in the pan. Place the onions around the brisket.
In a large bowl, mix the brown sugar, vinegar, ketchup and water. Mix well and pour over the meat. Cover tightly with a double sheet of foil and place in a 350-degree oven. Roast for about 2-3 hours. Check to make sure there is enough liquid and then roast for an additional 2-4 hours depending on size. Check frequently to make sure the sugar doesn’t burn and that there is enough liquid in the pan.
Add more boiling water if more liquid is needed. (The boiling water ensures constant cooking and no cooling for cooled liquid.) The brisket is done when it literally falls apart when pierced with a fork or easily breaks apart.
Note: If I am making this amount of brisket, I always make it the day before. I let it cool, slice it and place it back in the gravy. Then I refrigerate it. As it chills, the fat congeals and I can chip it off the next day before reheating. Serving is a snap. Reheat covered for about 30-40 minutes at 325 degrees. Serves 15-25.
Joni Schockett lives in Massachusetts. When not cooking or writing about food, she is an associate professor of English at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. Her e-mail address is [email protected]
Staff at Washington Jewish Week does not test recipes and therefore may not be able to answer readers’ questions.