Last Friday, I helped prepare a traditional Ashkenazi feast with my friend Etti Hadar and her family. I’ll be blogging about the experience later this week, when I’ve had a chance to download all the pictures we took. A couple of weeks ago, when we were planning the meal, I asked Etti if I could bring any dishes from home. We settled on me bringing a beef brisket large enough for the seven guests at our dinner. I thought it would be fun to write a post about this beloved Jewish entree. Let’s talk brisket!
Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and most other Jewish holiday gatherings traditionally feature a meat dish as the centerpiece. In an effort to be more health-conscious, I once tried making Passover with only fish and poultry dishes. Don’t go there. It’s the ultimate Shiksa mistake to forego beef at a holiday celebration. Unless you have a very health-conscious or vegetarian family, meat is expected. Traditionally, the meat of choice at a Jewish holiday table is the brisket cut, because it’s a kosher cut that can feed a lot of people (more bang for your buck).
So, have you ever tried to make a brisket? Have you ever failed miserably trying to make one? I’ll admit it… I’ve been there. I rarely eat red meat, so cooking a brisket isn’t exactly second nature to me. It does take a bit of practice, but with a few tips and a great recipe, you’ll be brisket-cooking like a pro!
BRISKET COOKING TIPS
1) Pick a great cut of meat. The higher quality the meat is, the tastier your brisket will turn out. Fresh is always best. I buy organic, grass-fed meat when possible… and on holidays, I buy kosher meat. Most Jewish families, even if they aren’t kosher, appreciate knowing that they are eating kosher on the holiest holidays of the year. Up until recently, I wasn’t able to find organic AND kosher meat in the Los Angeles area. Luckily, Wise Organic Pastures now delivers kosher organic beef, chicken, and turkey to my local butcher. While I generally look for grass fed meat, when it comes to brisket I steer clear of grass fed because it is incredibly lean. Lean is great for other cuts of meat, but brisket really needs some fat to help it turn out tender. Choose a cut with nice marbling; the more fat you can see, the more tender the meat will be. Very lean cuts (like grass fed) can turn out tough no matter how long you cook them. Usually I try to buy grass fed meat, but for special occasions when you’re cooking brisket, fat is key.
2) Get the right size brisket for the amount of people you’ll be entertaining. Generally, butchers recommend calculating about ½ pound per person. I always get at least two pounds over the recommended amount. Jewish mothers hate to run out of food. Besides, if nobody eats the extra meat, you’ll have some nice leftovers.
3) Don’t trim the fat. Many recipes call for trimming the fat, but I usually leave my brisket untrimmed… the extra fat makes more cooking liquid, which keeps the brisket moist during slow cooking. If you’ve got a first cut brisket (flatter cut), you definitely shouldn’t trim– first cuts naturally have less fat. Of course, if you’re watching your fat or cholesterol intake, a trimmed brisket will also work; it may not turn out quite as juicy, though.
4) Make sure your roasting pan or slow cooker is big enough for your brisket. It’s okay if the meat initially looks scrunched in there, traveling up the sides… it will shrink a LOT during cooking.
5) Running short on time? Use a slow cooker! That’s right, the slow cooker (aka a crock pot). A large-capacity slow cooker is a great way to cook your brisket if you can’t be checking on your oven all day. While I generally prefer the flavor and texture of oven-cooked brisket to the slow cooker (the oven cooks with drier heat), there is not much of a difference between the two. The slow cooker is a great alternative for those who are short on time, short on oven space, or trying to keep the temperature in the home from getting too hot!
5) Consider making the brisket a day in advance. If you have the time and foresight to plan ahead, make your brisket a day or two ahead– the meat will improve with time. I like to prepare the brisket the day before I serve it, then put it in the refrigerator overnight. This saves prep time on the following day. If you choose to do this, make sure the brisket cools to room temperature before putting it in the refrigerator. Place the brisket and cooking juices/sauce in a glass or ceramic baking dish. Cover it with plastic wrap (not foil, which can react if there is any acid in your sauce). Do not slice it. Cover it in the meat juices to let it marinate. When you are ready to serve the brisket the next day, take it out of the refrigerator and skim the hardened fat that has risen to the surface of the sauce. Take the brisket out of the sauce and slice it cold. Place the slices back in the baking dish and spoon the sauce over the sliced meat. Cover the meat tightly with foil, then warm it in the oven at 350 degrees F for 45-60 minutes, checking periodically to make sure it doesn’t get dry. If you don’t have a lot of cooking liquid, you may want to add a little water or broth to the pan to keep things moist. You can cook the meat even longer to make it more tender if you wish.
6) Choose a tasty and time-tested recipe. I have several options on my website– search “brisket” in the search box above. They are tried and true recipes, read the comments to see what other readers think!
Tomorrow I’ll share one of my recipes for cooking a brisket in the slow cooker.