Life's too short to eat bad food - Me

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - Arthur C. Clarke

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Mommys* Brisket

Get Brisket from Lipman's, put on foil, top with a sliced onion and a bottle Kraft Catalina Dressing. Seal foil and bake at 325° until tender.

This is Mommy’s* Brisket recipe, or at least it would be if a copy had been handed down to me. It’s the only specific meal of hers I remember. Sweet, moist and delicious. Served with a bit of horseradish. It is permanently connected in my mind with Jewish holidays and it appears frequently on my table at such times. The leftovers in a sandwich, particularly on challah – da bomb.

Lipman's is a kosher butcher in Brighton, New York, the town near Rochester where I spent my childhood. It is still very much in existence. In fact, by a strange coincidence, the current owner is married to my oldest and best friend Kathye. I like him – not just because he markets beef jerky based on my recipe. To my knowledge Lipman’s is the only independent kosher butcher left in Western New York.

Growing up in a Conservative Jewish home generally meant overcooked meat – there was a misbelief back then that myoglobin (the red juices in raw meat) equaled the blood prohibited by the laws of Kashrut. This misguided notion resulted in things like lamb chops that were crunchy and a generation of lantsman who believed that well-done was edible.

It also meant things like shrimp on the porch. Shrimp on porch, you ask? Let me explain once and for all, in the clearest possible terms, the difference between Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed Judaism: Orthodox Jews don’t east shrimp, Reformed Jews eat shrimp anytime they want to, and Conservative Jews eat shrimp out. Or on the porch with paper plates. And either disposable cutlery or cutlery used for no other purpose.

I kid you not. I am pretty sure that I have a couple of pieces of that really, really cheap flatware with the off-white (faux ivory?) plastic handles lurking around the house somewhere.

Like most women in the 60’s Mad Men era, Mommy clipped recipes from newspapers and magazines, and shared them with her friends. I recall one other brisket recipe that called for her to marinate the meat overnight in several cans of Genny White beer (not to be confused with Genny Screamers). To my knowledge, that was the only time we ever had beer in the house. There was wine and liquor, including the ubiquitous Concord Grape for holidays. There were bottles that I never saw used – stuff like Cherry Heering and Pimms Cup No. 1 – that lasted until we boys were in high school (heh).

This is precisely the kind of household recipes that would have ended up in the Rochester Hadassah cookbook. Rochester has a long history with the women’s Zionist organization and Mommy had been a President of the local chapter.  I am keeping two copies for my daughters. It’s a little something of the grandmother that they'll never meet.  It includes a few recipes from her, but this isn’t among them.

This is as close as I can get without a written record.  It’s as close as I need. It has satisfied my tastebuds, and those of others. It brings Mommy to my dining room table. That’s what really matters. I do brisket many other ways. I corn it, smoke it and braise it, but this is the preparation I come home to for Jewish holidays. It’s a comfort food on par with matzo ball soup or chopped liver.

Over a year ago I posted a photo of the brisket in a Facebook group called Norene’s Kitchen. It'sA cooking group, primarily kosher, hosted by Canadian cookbook author Norene Gilletz. They must've liked the picture because I got a lot of requests for the recipe.

Like a fool I said I would. I always do.

That’s where the trouble started. I have issues writing recipes. I don't do restaurant reviews because I don't want to; I don't write recipes because they're a royal pain in the ass. To me recipe writing is a Black Hole from which nothing escapes. Even when they shouldn’t be hard they give me trouble. It’s a curse no exorcism seems to penetrate.

Sometimes it’s the measuring. It once took me two and a half years to come up with a workable recipe for my Chili because I had to go back measure each ingredient; each adjustment. More than once – if you are going to do it, you might as well end up with something that works for people.  But don’t ask me for it – it was lost in a computer crash. I told you, it’s a jinx.

Sometimes I get distracted by “shiny objects” like that as yet unwritten essay on the existential nature of the recipe. Sometimes it just gets pushed aside for something else, and then buried under embarrassment for taking so long.

Sometimes I just overthink it – the proverbial mountain out of a molehill.

I have made some modifications from to the way Mommy used to do it. I don’t remember her browning the brisket first. I am not sure I remember anything being browned in that house, and the aroma of searing meat and clouds of smoke and steam are something I think I would recall. I also have taken to caramelizing the onions in the same pan. I think it adds another layer of flavor.

The pan gets deglazed with stock or just water. I tried wine a couple of times, but didn’t like the result. If the spirit moves me I include carrot or two before it goes in the oven, seared or not. The cooked carrot just looks good on the serving platter. I tried sautéed mushrooms once or twice - they got lost in the mix. I do favor a mushroom-based side dish, perhaps a pilaf or a farfel.

1  4-5lb (2 -2.5 kg) Beef Brisket**
1 Plain Old Storage Onion, halved, peeled and sliced.
1 Bottle Kraft Catalina Dressing***
3 tbl. (20ml) oil (or 2 tbl butter and 1 of oil if you don’t keep Kosher)
1 carrot quartered and cut into 2 " lenghts (optional)
Salt and Pepper

1.  Salt and Pepper the brisket.
2.  Preheat oven to 300°**** Heat a heavy bottomed pan (cast-iron is my choice) large enough to hold the brisket over medium-high heat add a tbl. of oil and abuse the brisket thoroughly on all sides. Never skimp on time spent browning meat. Monsieur Malliard is your friend. Remove the meat to a platter to nap while the onions are considered.
3. Let the pan cool a bit then heat pan over med-low to low heat. Add two Tbl. oil (or butter), then add the onions and cover, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Uncover and continue to cook slowly until the onions are a deep caramel color (colour). This cannot be rushed, no matter who tells you so. And it's really not caramelization - it's Monsieur Malliard again.
4. Prepare a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil (or a double layer of easy going foil) large enough to encapsulate the meat an a standard sheet pan. Spackle the foil with half of the dressing, and generously apply half of the onion. Top with the meat and any collected juices and embellish with the remaining dressing adorn with the leftover onion. Crown with the optional carrot and tightly seal the foil. Immerse in the oven for 3 - 4 hours, at least, until tender. (The process through wrapping can be done a day ahead.)
5. When done to your satisfaction, carefully remove the meat and allow it to doze whilst defatting the residue. Slice and serve crowned with the leavings.


* I use this term to avoid confusion. Mommy is my mother Eleanor who died when I was 13. Mom has been my mother since I was 15 proving that blood is not the only way to define a family.
** A whole beef brisket, NAMP 120 weighs in at 10 - 12 lbs. and is rarely found outside of restaurant supply shops. What is usually found at butchers and meat counters is the flat cut portion. The point cut is fattier and to me more flavorful, but feel free to use the flat. That will leave more point cuts for me. For more brisket information, check out my earlier post.
*** Accept no substitutes. I have found a lovely recipe for a homemade version of this dressing that is nice on a salad, but is not right for this.
**** This may be the worst part of recipe writing. To quote Robert Wolke "The cruel fact of life is that when a recipe tells you to cook for "X hours at Y degrees" it is only a guideline, an educated guess, a ballpark estimate." The only way to tell it's done is to stick a fork in it. Even the temperature is variable. I often prefer to cook it longer at a lower temperature


Jon in Albany said...

Glad to see you have made your way back to the keyboard. How's the hip doing?

I grew up on more of a tomato based braised brisket. I've got the recipe, but I've never gotten it to come out the same. Ahh, the briskets of our youth...

Natalie Sztern said...

Your back Yahoo!

In Montreal, we have more. Ultra Orthodox Jews won't even look at a woman sleeveless so shrimp I don't think is even in the bible...Orthodox Jews that I know attend shul every Saturday won't eat shrimp but will go out to eat and have fish with or without the proper utensils, look at woman with a wink and will fuck you in business any time of the week except Friday night and Saturday. Conservative, like me don't usually attend shul but want their kids to marry Jewish; light shabbos candles and try to get their spoiled kids to eat with them for shabbat. Reform all rules are out the door. In fact our only reform shul closed down However there is another movement growing but I forget what its called...I attended Orthodox shul growing up and while my kids were young however the reasons were not for prayer but for the yearly gossip my line of 'chairs' had fun doing - especially because we were all best friends and around us on both men and woman's side were all our families. Evey once in a while one of us had to ask what page we were on....

Scotty Harris said...

Jon, the hip is doing so much better than expected, but it lets me know when I am pushing it.

Brisket is just one of those foods that shows up in many childhood memories, It's a simple peasant dish on one level - a more economical cut that can be simply prepared and feed many. It's place on the Jewish menu is in part because it's a braise. You could make it before sundown the night before, and set it to keep warm 'til the next evening.

Scotty Harris said...

Natalie, we had more too, but that was always one of my two way to describe the differences between the sects. The other is Orthodox are Jews who want to be Catholics; Reformed are Jews who want to be Protestants, and Conservatives are Jews who want to be businessmen.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
- Arthur C. Clarke

Life's too short to eat bad food -