Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Oy, it's a brisket

I used to feel a little inadequate as a Jew because I didn't know how to make a brisket. I'm actually half Jewish in the blood way, but still - a good brisket recipe should be floating around somewhere in my DNA. My Jewish grandmother, however, made matzo ball soup using a Manischewitz mix, so there you have it.

Fortunately, I met a guy named Warren Kushner. Warren is a commercial director who also happens to be a diminutive Jewish surfer dude from South Africa who also happens to look like Jackie Stewart, the race car driver, who also happens to be a Jewish brisket aficionado.

At this point, I want to be clear: I'm not talking about the smoked brisket you get at Sonny Bryan's in Dallas. Sonny Bryan's is arguably the quintessential BBQ joint in the Texas style. I'm talking the kind you get at your Aunt Ada's house on Hanukah. Aunt Ada, whose pumpkin-colored hair is a marvel of modern engineering and who always wears too much lipstick, has a secret recipe that involves coffee and brown sugar and sometimes prunes. But that's only a starting point for great brisket.

This kind of brisket is made in the oven. Warren Kushner leaves his in the oven for almost 6 hours. I just don't have that kind of patience. He also uses Lipton's Onion Soup Mix, but I will reveal no more.

I will reveal my recipe. I've worked on it for about three years. The great thing about brisket (or anything you braise in the oven) is that it's a shoot-from-the-hip endeavor. I'm providing measurements, but when I make it, I never measure anything. I guess I'm rebelling after my tight-ass years as a measure-happy pastry chef.

The photo above is a good representation of what a brisket for the oven should look like. You'll need a Dutch oven large enough to hold the brisket comfortably. My large Le Creuset works well.

My ingredients are as follows:

2 yellow onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. dark brown sugar
a good sprinkling of smoked paprika
a sprig of thyme
1 16 oz can of chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper
2 Tbs. worcestershire sauce
a 1 - 2 lb. brisket with visible fat, seasoned with salt and pepper on both sides

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Heat some oil in the Dutch oven (I use 1 - 2 Tbs). When it's hot, toss in the onions and saute them over medium heat until they're soft, about ten minutes. Add the garlic, paprika, brown sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Saute that a few minutes more. Now add the tomatoes, worcestershire, and some water. You're going to need enough water to create a bath for the brisket, but you don't want to submerge it completely. I'm guessing 1 1/2 cups will do. Bring that to a boil and let it roll for about ten minutes. Turn off the heat, and put the brisket in the pot. Cover with the lid (it needs to be tightly covered), and put in the middle of the preheated oven.

I braise mine for at least three hours and up to four. When it's done, I remove the pot from the oven and let it cool, then I store it in the fridge in the Dutch oven. This is the kind of brisket that shreds easily, so while it's good for Hanukah, it's even better for the Michigan Notre Dame game, served on a crusty hoagie roll with caramelized onions and some provolone. Sometimes I puree the braising liquid in a blender and use it as a sauce.

A brisket that size costs about $12, and provides a lot of meals (besides sandwiches, you can add it to pasta, along with some of the sauce), and you know what that means: it keeps the Jewish guilt to a minimum.


  1. I love the way you write Wendy!! Glad to find your blog. You're a funny mo'fo. :-) Rob

  2. I don't think I've been called a mo fo since 4th grade. I believe it was my brother who did the name calling, and then he punched me in the stomach. Good times.

  3. Size Matters

    I don’t know that I can honestly say that I made Lunchbox’s brisket because, as anybody who has spent too much time in the kitchen is want to do, I embellished. But before I get to that, I should probably let you know that I did something very typical of me, but that you should avoid. I had read the recipe for the brisket, decided that it sounded delicious and ran right out to the grocery to buy a brisket. Having never made brisket before, and being too limited on time to go to a proper butcher who most certainly would have asked pertinent questions, I grabbed a pre-packaged brisket that looked nicely marbleized.

    On a lovely Sunday morning, expecting family for a planned meal at 2:00 pm, I start pulling out spices and chopping onions and garlic at 10:00 am. I begin to cut open the shrink-wrap plastic that encases the meat and notice that I have purchased a 5 lb brisket. The recipe calls for a 1 – 2 lb brisket. Oh, $#/+!! More mass means more cooking time!! Having no back-up plan and no other choice, I proceed to finish the preparation of the recipe hoping for major shrinkage. Of course, I decided to embellish the recipe a bit at this point, hoping to help cooking-time along a bit in the process. I thought that I’d sear both sides of the brisket for about five to seven minutes on a side in the Dutch oven with a little olive oil in the bottom of the pan. “I’m bringing the internal temp up a bit,” I thought to myself, musingly. I pulled the meat out and saw my cooking Sherry staring at me. I dutifully deglazed the Dutch oven, poured the reduced wine liquid over the meat, and poured myself a small glass of the Sherry in an attempt to get the “creative juices” effect. I finished preparing the mire poire part of the recipe, reinserted the meat and shoved it in the oven at 10:30 am.

    Since I had a leek in the fridge, some fresh tomatoes that were getting long-in-the-tooth, and only dried thyme instead of fresh, I substituted. I figured this would simultaneously keep me from the Italian guilt (almost as intense as Jewish guilt) of throwing out fresh tomatoes and give me an excuse if the recipe didn’t turn out. At this point, creative juices having kicked in, I went into nervous-energy mode. Realizing that all I could do otherwise was set the table and wait it out, I instead decided to make a desert that could be made ahead of time. There were children coming and I had tapioca so I decided to make yet another recipe that I had never made before, tapioca pudding. I figured I could make it more interesting for the adults by adding ginger or nutmeg or something. I also decide to look through a cook book for a complicated side dish that would keep me busy. At some point during the process I kicked the temperature on the oven up to 285 degrees and made the sign of the cross.

    Needless to say, it all worked out. We ate a half hour later than scheduled (which isn’t too unusual in my house anyway), the brisket was delicious, and we had a lovely comfort food desert to boot. I look forward to using more recipes from LunchBox.