This week, my Texan twitter friends spun a thread in a chat proclaiming brisket as a “Texas” thing. Texas can take credit for many things, but honest to goodness, brisket cannot be one of them. Let me tell you; I stood my ground as any true brisket lover should. I acquiesced and gave them high marks for barbeque brisket. Otherwise, brisket prepared for a traditional Jewish feast wins hands down every time.
The other thing this week that sparked my brisket pondering was that my favorite aunt has been haunting me with memories of her melt in your mouth, eat every bite and lick your plate clean, brisket. You smelled that bubbling goodness from the top of the hill going down to their lake cottage. Summers were when I got to savor her amazing cooking. If the evening was cool, I swear that meal was all the better enjoyed!
Why do I say brisket is the Holy Grail? Because presently, in the permanent absence of my aunt, it is difficult for me to get one all cooked, but I find it highly desired. Secondly, even the urban dictionary defines Holy Grail as “something highly desired as your favorite thing.” Yup. That covers it.
It is perhaps, my greatest culinary disappointment that I have not been successful at replicating my aunt’s creation, I have failed miserably, even though I know how she made hers. I have concluded it is not because of my culinary skills. It’s missing her special brand of love. The taste shall appear apparently, in my memory, not from my oven.
After a little research that led me to find an unending wealth of recipes, I concluded that no two bubbies (Jewish grandmothers) make brisket the same way. This it seems, has led to many skirmishes over whose bubbie makes the best. Although in recent years the price has escalated, Jewish cooks know that even though it takes forever to cook it so that it is edible, brisket is a budget-friendly way to feed a crowd. Also, it’s usually available as a large slab, which means plenty for a large gathering, or a smaller one with some left over for the next day. It tastes even better on day two.
Don’t tell my Texan friends I’m admitting this, but Texas does brisket well, too.
Of course, this is because of the same German decent culinary skills that made it famous within the Jewish community. Indeed, the earliest record of selling cuts of smoked brisket in Texas is an advertisement from two grocery stores in 1910, whose menus catered to Jewish Kosher foods. Since that time, Texas has become a gluttonous consumer of barbequed brisket. Austin’s Franklin Barbeque alone goes through 10, 662.24 pounds per week.
Pastrami is a version of brisket.
The earliest record of pastrami dates back to the Ottoman Empire (13th Century) in the eastern Turkey town of Pastirma. Cuts of goat and sheep were stored under horsemen’s saddles to tenderize the meat over the course of several days of riding. The salty taste was provided by the sweat of the horses. I’m thankful cooks have improved methods for long-term meat storage.
“I bought a brisket, now what do I do?”
Fresh brisket can be prepared in a slow cooker or baked in a 350 deg oven for 3 hours. Start with a fatty cut. Fat is the tenderizer of beef called the deckle. Fat adds flavor. Actually, fat enhances flavor by keeping the meat succulent.
Second advice is to keep it tightly covered during cooking, so no juices escape, resulting in a dry entrée. My aunt used sugar in her creation to make it tender and flavorful. Many recipes use a sweet wine or even Dr. Pepper. The latter makes me shudder.
Aunt Elinore’s method was to salt and pepper the 3-4 lb brisket, then sear it on each side for one minute in a 500 deg oven to make a nice caramelized crust. After turning the oven back to 350 deg., she added it to a roasting pan into which she also placed onions, carrots, bay leaves, and thyme. This was covered with 2 cups of water (or beef broth), lastly adding 3 tablespoons of cider vinegar over the top of the brisket and sprinkling with a tablespoon of brown sugar. Putting the pan’s cover in place, she then placed it in the oven. Once it was finished roasting, she removed the brisket from the pan and put it on a platter surrounded by the vegetables; making a gravy from the meat juices. Add baked potatoes and our feast is complete!