Friday, September 18, 2009

Not Yo Momma's Brisket

Growing up, there was always one thing you could depend on during a Jewish holiday feast at our house--brisket.

Mom's brisket was always good. It was a recipe she received from my Grandma, and probably one of those family recipes shared along the lines. So when I moved out and had my own family, of course, I began cooking the family brisket recipe.

But was it really as good as it good could be?

Tradition... Tradition!

I'm a big sap.  Tradition runs through my veins, and I happily chat/think about the history behind each holiday recipe. One day I was reminded of an old joke about traditional cooking.  It goes something like this:

A man happened to be home one day when his wife was preparing an old family recipe.  In fact, it was one of his favorites, so he watched her carefully.  He paid attention as she lovingly attend to the roast, trimming off excess fat, sprinkling and rubbing on the spices.  And then *WHACK*.  She hacked off a huge chunk of meat.

Astonished, the man turned to his wife and asked, "Honey, I am totally fascinated with how you are making my favorite roast, but I have got to ask: Why did you just whack off such a large piece of meat?"

The woman shrugged and answered, "I'm not really sure why it's done, only that it's always been done this way.  It's the family recipe.  That's how mom always did it, so that's how I do it."

About a week later, the man was invited to his mother-in-law's house, where she was planning on serving the famous family roast.  The husband arranged to arrive early, telling his mother-in-law that he was eager to see how she made his favorite meal.

Just like his wife had done, the mother-in-law lovingly attended to the roast, trimming off the fat, applying the spices and then... *WHACK*!

The man turned to his mother-in-law.  "Mom, you know I absolutely love this roast, and I am so curious as to how you prepare it.  Tell me, why is it that you chop off a large piece of meat?  Does it do something to the flavors?  Is it a tenderizing procedure?  Did you find a piece of meat that just wasn't good?"

The woman shrugged and then replied, "That's how my mamma did it, it's tradition.  So that's how I do it."

Time passed, and the man watched over and over again as his wife and her mother chopped off and discarded a large piece of meat from the roast.  Puzzled, the man decided to call his wife's grandmother.

"Grandma, you know I love the family roast.  I have been studying how it's prepared by watching your granddaughter and daughter cook.  And I have to tell you, and I am little confused about one of the steps.  After seasoning the meat, they both cut off a big ol' piece of meat.  Mom said that's the way you always did it, and she wants her roast to be as good as yours.  So although she isn't sure as to why it's done that way, she has continued with the traditional recipe.

"So, tell me, Grandma, why is this done?  Does it add some flavor?  Change the tenderness of the roast?  I'm sooo curious!"

The grandmother laughed.  "Well, there really is a good reason.  I had a rather small roasting pan back in the day, and the meat wouldn't fit into it.  So after trimming the fat and seasoning the roast, I always had to cut of a chunk of meat to make it fit into the pan."

(Badda-bum! ;)

My Mommy's Brisket

Mom's brisket recipe was fairly simple, and in a pinch, it's good (enough).


- Beef brisket
- Dried onion soup mix packet
- 1 to 2 lbs of baking potatoes, cut into quarters
- 1 to 2 carrots, chopped into large pieces
- 1 cup prunes
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder


Preheat oven to 350º F.

Rub brisket with onion soup mix.  Place in roasting pan.

Put carrots, prunes and potatoes around brisket.  Sprinkle potatoes with paprika and garlic powder.  Add enough water so that there's about 1/2 inch to inch of water in the pan.

Cooking time was--and I quote--"Cook the daylights out of it."  More specifically, Mom noted it should take about 4 to 5 hours.

Tradition, Shmadition

As time passed, I started noticing other flavors in some Jewish briskets.  Some were very sweet and had hints of ketchup.  So had more onion and herb flavors.  Some were even a tad spicy.  Various flavors and subtleties... As opposed to mine, which  was...... good enough.  And good enough just didn't seem good enough any more. So, I played with the flavors until I came up with a new and improved brisket recipe.  

Not Yo Momma's Holiday Brisket


- Beef brisket, about 4 pounds
- 3 to 4 large onions, divided, sliced
- 1 cup prunes
- 1 cup baby carrots
- 28 oz carton of low sodium beef stock (note: not broth)
- 1/2 cup red wine
- water
- 1 to 2 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 2 tablespoons granulated garlic
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of black pepper
- 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon oil (vegetable or canola)


Preheat oven to 350º F.

Rub spices evenly across all sides of the beef.  Heat roasting pan over high heat on stove burners.  Add beef and sear on all sides.  Remove pan from heat.

Pour in beef stock, red wine.  Add enough water so the liquid level is about 1 inch deep.  Scatter one onion's worth of onions around the pan.  Scatter carrots and prunes.  Add brown sugar.  Cover with aluminum foil, and put roasting pan in oven.

As brisket begins to cook, add oil to a large saute pan and then add remaining onions, cooking over medium heat to carmelize.  This should take about 40 minutes.

After the roast has been in the oven for about an hour, add the carmelized onions and smashed garlic to the liquid.  Stir and taste for seasonings (salt, pepper).

Keep covered and cook another 3 to 4 hours, or until the meat is fork tender.

Let meat rest about 20 minutes before serving.  Serve pan gravy, onions, carrots, prunes alongside the meat.  Preferably eat with a big ol' piece of fresh challah!

No comments:

Post a Comment