It promises to be a blustery cold weekend coming up and it occurs to me that, before we all delve willy nilly into holiday cooking, this might be the perfect time to make a brisket. Now, I'd never really thought about brisket before I married Jeff in 1988. It hadn't ever appeared in my coterie of Episcopalian go-to recipes, and I don't think I'd ever even had it before my first Passover Seder where I was charmed and amazed by this disarmingly flavorful wonder. How had this meltingly delicious, hearty braised masterpiece eluded me?
Needless to say, though I'm not usually a very observant wife to my lovely Jewish husband, I have happily produced this brisket each springtime to rave reviews.
I started thinking about brisket again during the magical "Fire, Flour & Fork" festival earlier this month, when I found myself standing under a wind-rippled tent on Broad Street, happily learning the fine points of central Texas-style barbeque from the masters Chris Fultz and Alex Graf of Richmond's very own ZZQ.
Now their brisket is indeed, a thing of wonder. It also involves an enormous smoker and close to a day of their determined efforts. Since it's going to be a little while before I can again avail myself of their stupendous Q, I got to thinking about my dear old springtime treat and the sheer joy of that lovely cut of beef.
Upon consideration, I realized that it has all of the necessary elements for a perfect cold- weather Sunday supper, whether you're Episcopalian, Jewish or even of no religious persuasion at all. Hence, I've decided to loudly proclaim: Baby, brisket's not just for Passover anymore.
This recipe comes from Nach Waxman, the founding partner of New York's famed Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore which is located on Lexington Avenue between 93rd and 94th Streets. Needless to say, the next time you're in New York, you should drop by and see this amazing shop. Before then, however, and to hold you till you get there, you should rustle up this superb brisket.
I found the recipe in The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins. I see from its tattered title page, that Jeff gave it to me for Christmas in 1989, which means, this is the brisket I've been lovingly making for 25 years now. Nach serves his with potato pancakes, fresh sauerkraut and green tomato pickles. I serve mine with sour cream mashed potatoes which I think is perhaps the perfect vehicle to catch the amazing jammy oniony gravy with which the brisket emerges, happily bedecked, from the oven. Oh yes, and Brussels sprouts quickly sauteed with some pancetta are good here too.
However you accompany it, for goodness sake, make this brisket before Thanksgiving is upon us. It's easy and so incredibly delicious. Plus you'll be primed and ready to appreciate the joys of that inevitable new world bird, with a hearty Eastern European brisket under your belt.
Nach Waxman's Brisket of Beef
1 brisket of beef, 5 to 6 pounds
1 to 2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup corn oil
8 onions, thickly sliced and separated into rings
1 6-ounce can of good quality tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 cloves garlic, quartered
A handful of peeled baby carrots
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
Dust the brisket with the flour and sprinkle on the pepper.
Transfer the brisket to a dish and, keeping the heat on medium-high, add the onions to the casserole and stir, scraping up the brown bits. Cook until the onions have softened and developed a handsome brown color, 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove the casserole from the heat, and place the brisket, along with any juices that have accumulated, on top of the onions. Spread the tomato paste over the brisket as if you were icing a cake. Add the garlic and carrots, and cover tightly. Place the casserole on the middle rack in the oven, and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
Remove the casserole from the oven, and cut the meat into 1/8 to 1/4-inch-thick slices. You can do this by removing it to a cutting board first, but I usually just carefully cut it right in the casserole dish. Splay the slices so they're at a bit of an angle so that you've effectively reassembled the brisket slightly slanted.
Correct the seasoning it necessary, and if absolutely necessary, add 2 or 3 teaspoons of water to the casserole.
Cover and return the casserole to the oven. Cook until the meat is brown and fork-tender, 1 3/4 to 2 hours longer. Your house will smell amazing!
Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
– Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, New York)