My Favorite Brisket
Gedempte Fleysch—”well stewed”—that’s how Eastern European Jews prefer their meat. Slow cooking, of course, became a practical necessity with grainy cuts of forequarter meat. Because a brisket stretched into many meals, it was an economical cut for large families in Europe. Leftovers were ground up to stuff knishes or kreplach. The meaty gravy became the base for a midweek cabbage or potato soup or a sauce to cover pompushki, Ukrainian baked dumplings, which resemble Pepperidge Farm rolls. In this country it became particularly popular. Brisket comes from the front quarters of the steer, the chest area. The whole piece of meat, from three to ten pounds, is potted (which really just means put into a pot, hence the term “pot roast”) and cooked slowly by braising it in liquid. It needs to be simmered slowly to transform it into the succulent morsels I remember as a child. It should be covered and simmered in a 325-degree oven for several hours. This dish is best prepared in advance and refrigerated so that the fat can be easily skimmed from the surface of the gravy. It is a dish I serve frequently on Friday night, at holidays and at dinner parties. Serve with farfel (boiled egg-barley noodles), noodle kugel or potato pancakes. A colorful winter salad goes well with this.
- 1 5-pound brisket of beef, shoulder roast of beef, chuck roast or end of steak
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 onions, peeled and diced
- 1 10-ounce can tomatoes, undrained
- 2 cups red wine
- 2 stalks celery with the leaves, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- 6 to 8 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Pat the meat dry. Sprinkle it with the salt and pepper and rub it with the garlic. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large skillet, add the brisket and sear on both sides. Remove from the heat.
- Place the onions in a large casserole or Dutch oven. Top with the beef, fatty side up. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the red wine, celery, bay leaf, thyme and rosemary to the casserole. Cover and bake for about 3 hours, basting often with pan juices. Uncover, add the parsley and carrots and bake, uncovered, until the carrots are cooked, about 30 minutes more. To test for doneness, stick a fork in the flat (thinner or leaner end of the brisket). When there is a light pull on the fork as it is removed from the meat, it is “fork tender.” To serve, if time permits, refrigerate the brisket in its pan juices, or gravy, overnight so that the fat can be easily skimmed from the surface before serving.
- If serving immediately: trim all the visible fat from the brisket. Place the brisket, on what was the fat side down, on a cutting board. Look for the grain—that is, the muscle lines of the brisket—and, with a sharp knife, cut across the grain and transfer the slices to a platter. Some people like to strain the gravy, but I prefer to keep the onions because they are so delicious. Skim the fat from the surface of the gravy and pour the gravy over the sliced brisket.
- If refrigerating the brisket overnight: preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Trim all the visible fat from the cold meat. Place it, with what was the fat side down, on a cutting board. Look for the grain—that is, the muscle lines of the brisket—and, with a sharp knife, cut across the grain. Place the sliced meat in a roasting pan. Skim the fat from the surface of the gravy and warm it over medium heat. Pour the hot gravy over the meat, cover and reheat in the oven for 45 minutes. Some people like to strain the gravy before serving, but I prefer to keep the onions because they are so delicious.
- Recipe reprinted with permission from Jewish Cooking America by Joan Nathan (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998). Photo courtesy of Megan Ginsberg.