If you ever doubted the passion with which diners regard brisket, look no further than the online discussion boards of sites like Chow, Eater and Serious Eats — or any Jewish Community Center gathering. That’s where you’ll find devotees discussing, kibitzing and arguing about Lipton onion soup, the thickness of the slice and the perfection of their mothers’ recipes.
“Every culture has a version,” says Stephanie Pierson, author of what may be the world’s first brisket-centric cookbook, and every family says theirs is the best. It’s a pride thing. It’s also a love thing, which is why Pierson’s book, “The Brisket Book” (Andrews McMeel, 208 pages, $29.99), carries the subtitle “A Love Story With Recipes.”
There’s probably no other cut of meat that evokes such feelings of home, happiness and cultural continuity.
“We have lost our mother tongues,” she says, “changed our last names and moved all over the world, (but) we have somehow managed not to lose our recipes for brisket.”
Instead, those scraps of paper — tattered index cards filled with spidery jottings about oven temperatures and flavorful additions — are passed from bubbe to granddaughter, shared with college roommates and then emailed to boyfriends, cousins and friends-of-friends who are hosting a Hanukkah feast for the first time. It’s a culinary sharing that transcends borders, cultures and divides.
That was the message Pierson heard over and over again as she spent a year “brisketeering” with rabbis, butchers, bubbes and chefs, including Chris Kimball of Cooks Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen fame and Nach Waxman, the owner of Kitchen Arts & Letters.
“For a tough cut of meat that’s not a big superstar, it has this amazing provenance of being part of communities and families all over the world,” Pierson says.
Brisket may lack the sexiness of a sirloin, Pierson says, or the va-va-voom of a filet, but no matter what you add to that inexpensive, tough cut of meat — and that’s a list that ranges from miso to Dr Pepper — brisket is transformed by one thing.
It’s love, says Jeff Banker, executive chef at San Francisco’s Baker & Banker, “For it to be good, you have to put a lot of love into it.”
Temple Emanu-El Brisket
This recipe is a favorite at New York City’s Temple Emanu-El.
4-5 pound beef brisket
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
4 large onions, peeled and cut into eighths
2 14-ounce cans jellied cranberry sauce, sliced
Sprinkle both sides of the brisket with the garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Tightly cover the brisket with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 days.
When you’re ready to finish the dish, preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
Unwrap the brisket, place it in a roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes on each side. Remove the pan from the oven and decrease the temperature to 350 degrees. Place the onions under and around the brisket, then cover the top of the meat with the cranberry sauce slices. Tightly cover the pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil and cook until fork-tender, about 3 hours.
Remove the pan from the oven and allow the brisket to cool. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board, trim the fat, then slice the meat against the grain to the desired thickness. Return the slices to the pot, overlapping them at an angle so you can see a bit of the top edge of each slice, cover the pan with foil and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, remove any congealed fat from the top of the sauce. Heat the brisket, covered, at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, then, uncovered, for another 20-30 minutes, until hot and the sauce has reduced a bit. Serve with the sauce.
Yield: 8-10 servings
Niman Ranch Branding Brisket With Bo’s Barbecue Sauce
6-pound beef brisket
Kosher salt, black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
10 sprigs thyme
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pat brisket dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a Dutch oven — or large, high-sided, ovenproof saute pan with a lid — over high heat. Add the brisket and cook, turning once for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate.
Add the remaining tablespoon olive oil to the pan and reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the onions and thyme and cook, stirring often, for about 3 minutes, or until the onions begin to brown. Add the wine and cook 1 minute. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Return the brisket to the pan, cover and bake until fork-tender, 3-4 hours.
Remove the brisket from the oven, transfer to a plate and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or until chilled enough to slice easily. Discard the pan juices.
To prepare the sauce, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, for 2-3 minutes, until soft. Stir in the ketchup, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, mustard, pepper and crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the sugar melts. Season to taste with salt. Serve with the sliced brisket.
Yield: 10-12 servings
Classic Braised Beef Brisket
Chef Todd Gray serves this brisket at the Equinox Restaurant in Washington, D.C.
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3-pound beef brisket
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 quart veal or beef stock
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
In a small bowl, combine the salt, paprika, mustard and pepper. Rub the brisket all over with the spice mix.
In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the brisket and brown evenly on both sides, 5-7 minutes per side. Transfer the brisket to an ovenproof baking dish just large enough to hold the brisket snugly. Add the rosemary and thyme sprigs, garlic, stock, wine and vinegar. Cover the dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil and bake until the brisket is fork-tender, 3-4 hours.
Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and cover with foil to keep warm. Strain the liquid into a pan and reduce over medium heat to about 2 1/2 cups, with a glaze consistency. Check the seasonings. Slice the brisket across the grain and serve drizzled with sauce.
Yield: 6 servings
Recipes from “The Brisket Book: A Love Story With Recipes” by Stephanie Pierson (Andrews McMeel, 208 pages, $29.99)