Brisket for Hanukkah
I cannot think of the word “brisket” without thinking of my mother. She made brisket for shiva calls, for mahjong, for Hanukkah. She considered it the perfect comfort food for a crowd. Although brisket can be very fatty, my mother’s go to meal was not. Like so many of her Jewish friends, mother’s “first cut” was Kosher and so well trimmed, the red meat was often unprotected. In spite of this sin, somehow Mother’s brisket was fairly tender, though a little dry. It was bathed in a sweet mixture of light beer and ketchup, surrounded by carrots and steamed potatoes. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t great and I never requested mother’s brisket for my birthday. In fact, until recently, I did not want braised oven roasted brisket for any occasion. But WCSH6 reminded me that Hanukkah would soon be here and wouldn’t I like to prepare something traditional for our viewing audience?! Last year, it was latkes, so this year, I decided it was time to tackle brisket.
Brisket comes from the muscular forequarters of the cow. It should be cooked slowly and although some of the fat should be cut away, a nice thin layer of fat must remain in order for the meat to melt in your mouth and taste rich. If you like your brisket super lean, the way my glamorous mother does, it’s going to be tasteless. Brisket can be purchased whole (10-18 pounds). It can also be purchased as the first cut or leaner flat cut (Most supermarkets carry the flat cut.). The second cut of brisket is significantly fattier and includes the deckle point. This second cut is the favorite of many chefs today. Rosemont Market and Bakery in Portland, Maine carries the whole brisket straight from local Maine farms and can give you either cut and tailor to your taste. I chose the first cut for this recipe because it is easier to find and because, as long as it’s not trimmed to death, it will cook beautifully, and be greatly enriched by the other ingredients in this recipe.
If at all possible, do make homemade beef or dark chicken stock for this dish. It makes a world of difference. And it’s a very good idea to prepare this a day or two in advance. All pot roasts benefit from a day of rest. Although you want to cook with some fat, once the meat is tender, you need to make sure the sauce is not greasy. The best way to remove fat from a sauce is to carefully skim the top congealed layer with a spoon after the sauce has chilled in the fridge. This slow cooked, time consuming dish is really rich and luscious and I tip my hat to meat master Bruce Aidells for helping me realize just how good a brisket can be.