Don’t Pass Over the brisket
By Jeffrey Abrahams, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer
I know of no other food in the Jewish arsenal of home cooking that elicits so much controversy as a brisket. True, matzah ball soup is a close second. Cooked long enough with a mélange of spices and vegetables, beef brisket yields a homey comfort that is ideal for modern families that flee from each other to distant corners of the country only to gather once a year around the table to retell the ancient story of the Exodus.
Before, during and after the brisket is served, you can be sure that the very subject summons conversation, innuendo, anecdotes, accusations, unsolicited recommendations, and intractable declarations of best practices for preparation, serving and accompaniments.
Whether or not the brisket is overcooked, undercooked, oversauced, fat-laden or ineptly sliced, there is a set-piece of drama that unfolds after the steaming platter has been placed on the table.
That’s how this scene played out in my childhood home. Each year I waited for the moment my mother would lean back in her chair, wince, peer up at a spot about two feet above my father’s head across the table, and ask with palms outstretched, “I wonder why my brisket always comes out so dry?”
Here is the secret of a perfect brisket, along with my own recipe. You can master the craft of cooking a dish so delectable, so intensely aromatic, that neighbors will knock on your door and ask what you’re cooking. This actually happened to me.
The key to keeping the long-cooking brisket from getting too dry is to use a pan just large enough to hold the brisket and all its little friends, with a tight-fitting lid to retain the liquids.
If you use a pan that’s too large, the juices will cook off, causing the brisket to yield its own precious bodily fluids in a gaseous form. Your brisket will have the consistency of a welcome mat.
- Beef brisket (Bigger the better; figure at least 1/2 lb per person.)
- 4 medium onions (More is OK. You can’t have too many onions.)
- 10 oz. of beef stock or 1 can (101/2 oz.) of beef broth
- 1 12-oz. bottle of chili sauce A-1 Sauce (1/2 cup or 1 small bottle.)
- Garlic (fresh), at least 2 whole bulbs
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 bottle of beer, dark or light (May substitute red wine)
- Small red potatoes or Yukon Golds
- Carrots, mushrooms to cook with the meat (slice or leave whole)
Peel garlic, put through garlic press and rub on all sides of brisket so the flavor penetrates meat. The garlic massage is essential for the meat achieving ultimate briskethood.
Slice onions thinly and place half on bottom of two quart glass baking pan. Or use deep, covered roaster pan. (I use an enamel roasting pan with a tight-fitting lid that cleans up nicely.)
Pour beef broth or stock over onions. Put brisket in baking pan. Baste meat with A-1 sauce on all sides. Layer remaining onions on top of brisket.
Pour chili sauce on top of brisket. Put bay leaf on either side of brisket.
Pour bottle of beer around brisket. A little more couldn’t hurt. Or substitute red wine.
Add sliced mushrooms, carrots and small red potatoes, cut into pieces, if desired.
Cover tightly. Bake at 350 degrees for four-plus hours. Longer if brisket size warrants.
Remove pan from oven. Let stand for at least one hour. Remove potatoes, carrots, etc. and gravy from pan. Place in large bowl to cool. You will eventually place this in the refrigerator.
Remove brisket from pan and place on platter to cool for three hours. Transfer brisket to cutting board and slice thinly with a sharp knife.
Transfer sliced brisket back to cooking pan and reassemble with vegetables and gravy.
Warm up for an hour or so before serving so your home can smell deliciously welcoming. Or refrigerate overnight and reheat before serving.
• Brisket must cook for a long time. And cool. If you cook at night, you’re in for a long commitment.
• Brisket gets better with age. I like to cook it the night before I serve it. Then warm it up after the flavors have had a chance to marry. It’s even better on day three.
• If you do not let brisket stand and cool, you will not be able to slice it easily. It will shred.
• Brisket throws off a lot of fat. I skim the fat as often as possible. One effective way is to refrigerate your brisket overnight, then skim off the fat that rises and solidifies with the cold.
• Instead of cooking potatoes with the brisket, I also like to roast potatoes separately from the meat and, in winter, a variety of root vegetables to serve with the meat.
Born and raised in Dayton, Jeffrey Abrahams is a freelance writer living in Oakland, Calif.