Whenever I'm in a
group of Jewish food enthusiasts and the chat turns to the
glories of a great brisket, it seems that someone always
says, "Oh, my Aunt Fanny makes a tremendous brisket! She
soaks it overnight in Merlot and cooks it with prunes." Or,
"My Grandmother Sophie's brisket is the best; she always
stuffs it with apples and cooks it for four hours in fresh
apple cider with bay and cinnamon." Or, "Our family always
cooks brisket with dark beer and honey."
thing about all these oral recipes is that they are wildly
diverse and yet undoubtedly all delectable. Does this mean
that you can cook brisket with just about anything? I think
the answer is a bit more complicated, but it gives us a
small glimpse into the creative process of cooking.
If you cook a
good, not-too-fatty brisket with nothing but a bit of salt
and pepper in water or broth, covered, for three hours or
until it's wonderfully tender, it will be very good,
especially if accompanied by some favorite starches and
vegetables. So the creative trick is to turn a good brisket
into a legendary one - and I have a few open-ended steps you
might like to follow along the way.
First, pick a
It should be an
even, dark pink color and at least 2-1/2 inches thick, with
a thin fat cap (about 1/4" to 3/8" thick). A full beef
brisket weighs about 5-1/2 to 7 lbs. and cooks down to 4 to
5-1/2 lbs. You can cook half a brisket if you don't want all
those lovely, short-lived leftovers.
1) Make a rub to
season and marinate the outside of the meat.
2) Decide the
best liquid for braising (wine, juice, beer, stock,
conserves melted with brandy, for example).
3) Choose some
accompanying garnishes and accents, and match to the cooking
liquid and the seasoning rub (fruits, dried fruits, salty
accents, sweeteners, spices, herbs).
4) Choose the
accompanying dishes to show off your succulent brisket at
What is a
combination of spices, herbs and salt that, when rubbed into
the surface of the meat, will draw out any off flavors and
deeply enrich the flavor of the beef.
You can create a
myriad of rubs, depending on what flavors you want to have
in your final cooking. Do you want a sweet citrus flavor?
Use brown sugar, orange and lemon zests, a 1/2 part of
cinnamon, salt, white pepper, dried orange peel, fresh or
dried mint or lemon balm. Moisten with a bit of light
vinegar or orange juice and vegetable oil to facilitate
spreading the rub into the meat.
And the cooking
The kind of
cooking liquid you choose will affect the length of cooking
time, since fruit juices, beer, wine and liquors tenderize
the meat and shorten the time it will take to cook the meat
into utter tenderness.
We'll use a
Southwestern flavor profile, so we can match it with liquids
ranging from brandy to beer, fruit juice to port or red
wine. I'm thinking that the sweetness of port wine and
sparkling apple cider might together make a good,
companionable match with the warmth of the spices in the
1 part ground
1 part ground
1/2 part ground
1 part regular
chili powder or pure ancho chili powder
1 part ground
1 part dried
3 parts kosher
2 parts crushed
A "part" can be
as little as 1 tablespoon or as much as 1/4 cup if you want
to make 2-1/2 cups of rub to use for a few different
briskets, stews or salmon.
Add apple cider
vinegar, olive oil and crushed fresh garlic to make a thick
paste for rubbing.
Rub the paste
well into all parts of the meat and let marinate for two
hours to overnight, covered and refrigerated.
After the meat is
marinated, heat a large, heavy pot, big enough to hold the
whole brisket, add about 1/4 cup of vegetable oil and let it
heat until it shimmers and gives off intense heat.
Dry the brisket
gently to remove any moisture that has collected on the
surface and place fat side down into the oil.
Brown well, then
turn and brown on the other side.
Pour or spoon off
any extra grease.
Pour enough of
the port wine and sparkling cider into the pot to come
halfway up the side of the brisket.
Now, the closing
of the flavor circle! Let's match the braising
accompaniments with the flavors we already have simmering.
Do we want more sweetness? Something tart, herby or salty
perhaps? Although the rub has quite a bit of herb in it,
brisket is greatly enhanced by accompanying herbs, so I opt
for adding a couple of bay leaves and more sage and fresh
oregano - at least 2 tablespoons each
I think fruit
will wonderfully offset the rub, the cider and the herbs.
How about dried apricots and pears? They'll slowly rehydrate
and add their flavors during the long, slow braising. Add
some sliced and slowly browned (caramelized) onions halfway
through the cooking to improve the savory quality offered by
And what about
the port? It's very sweet and might be a bit overpowering,
so let's add some black or green cracked olives to balance
out the sweet with salt - just a few, however, added halfway
through the cooking.
Now tightly cover
the brisket and let cook at about 325° for 3 to 31/2 hours,
checking once or twice to make sure the liquid is not
cooking away; add more cider or water as needed.
While the brisket
is cooking, we have lots of time to make accompaniments. The
rich, succulent sauce almost always demands something
starchy: noodles, most types of potatoes, sweet potatoes and
yams, the wonderful golden squashes of the season.
One of my
favorite "sides" for brisket is spaetzle, a fresh noodle
dough rubbed through a cheese grater into boiling water to
create little squiggly dumplings. Yum!
Yukon Gold or
until soft, then mash them together and season with salt,
roasted garlic and olive oil.
For the lovely
greens of fall, cook chard, kale and/or spinach swiftly in
very hot oil, then stew for a few minutes with salt, chopped
scallions, a touch of green chili and dry white wine.
Great! We've made
a new brisket that, when cooked until pull-apart tender,
might be greeted with the sighs and groans due the truly
temperatures drop and fall envelops us, I hope you'll apply
the "steps" I've introduced to create a new family brisket
that will add its incomparable warmth to life in your home.