Brisket for the Soul

Exploring the stack of old Jewish cookbooks and family recipes my mother brought to me when she visited from Atlanta, I found a note. On the top of a small white paper, in her handwriting, were the words Rosh Hashanah, and then the list; Apple Charlie, Challah, Kugel, Green Bean Salad, Brisket. I asked her if this meal plan was from last year, but she said no.

"That must have been from many, many years ago," she said while standing in my California kitchen with afternoon sun lighting half her face. That must have been why, when I read it, I tasted decades of family holiday meals and decided we should buy a brisket and make it together.

She chose a nice 4-pound cut, and since the ingredients for my mother’s brisket are basic staples, salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic, onions and good wine, we lost no time shopping around. But since it cooks entirely on top of the stove, gently, over hours, it gave us lots of time to watch over a deep, bubbling, burgundy sauce, while absorbing rich scents, filling my tiny kitchen, taking us back all those years, then filling us up right where we were. And when, after an overnight of cooling, my mother showed my how to slice (carefully against the grain) and reheat (layering the tender meat) back in the gravy, framing it with softened orange carrots — I took a picture of our creation, right in the pot, because it was beautiful.

When I looked up different brisket recipes, I found all kinds of creative approaches; one using a spicy apple butter sauce, one cooking the meat in molasses sweetened navy beans, and one adding a blanket of cooked prunes. But all of them had a key element in common: time. Each requires at least an overnight of marinade and anywhere from three to six hours of low-heat cooking to soften and season the meat. For Mom’s brisket, the techniques are straightforward, the ingredients few, but if the definition of soul food is cooking simple foods, nice and slow, then a Rosh Hashanah brisket must be good for the soul.

Kaethe’s Stovetop Brisket

The seasonings and gravy for this recipe are light enough to gracefully enhance the flavor of the meat. But if you like more spice, add salt and pepper to suit your tastes and enjoy!

4-pound beef brisket

1 1/4 teaspoon salt (to taste)

1/4 teaspoon pepper (to taste)

4 large garlic cloves, sliced thin

1 large onion, sliced thin

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup dry red wine

5 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon paprika

3 large carrots

Rinse brisket in cold water and place in large dish with sides. Thinly slice garlic coves and onion and arrange under and over meat. In small bowl, combine and whisk salt, pepper, 3 tablespoons olive oil and wine. Pour over meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight, turning meat once.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in heavy, deep, wide skillet over medium heat. After scraping off — but saving — onions and garlic, place brisket in pan, searing each side until slightly brown, about four to five minutes. Place meat aside on platter. Pour marinade into pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, return meat to pan, scatter onions and garlic above and below, and spoon liquid over top of brisket. Sprinkle top with 1/4 teaspoon of paprika. Cover and reduce heat to low, simmering approximately three hours, turning after halfway through and sprinkling other side with 1/4 teaspoon of paprika. Add whole carrots during last hour. Test with knife. Meat should be soft but firm enough not to shred.

Turn off heat. Let cool slightly, then remove from marinade.

Place meat in large dish, cover and refrigerate overnight for ease of slicing. Strain gravy to separate onion, garlic slices and whole carrots from liquid. Then store each in refrigerator overnight.

Skim fat off top layer of marinade and pour into deep, wide skillet. Mash onions and garlic with spoon and add to marinade. Heat on medium low. Test for salt or pepper preferences. Cut brisket in 1/4-inch slices against the grain and layer into marinade with carrots. Cover and rewarm approximately 30 minutes or just until gravy starts to bubble. Do not overcook. Serve brisket slices on platter with some gravy spooned over and remainder on the side.

Serves 10.