kosher kitchen

Chanukah brisket with roots in the old country


It is never too early to think about Chanukah but, I have been wondering … who decided we should eat brisket with our latkes? It seems that the sale of briskets is higher right before Chanukah than at almost any other time of year, except Rosh Hashanah and Pesach. Our love affair with brisket is legendary!

So here’s the story. Several hundred years to our Ashkenazic ancestors in Europe ate what was in season. You might think that cattle is not a seasonal food but it was and might still be. Cattle was very inexpensive to raise from early spring until late fall. The animals could graze on grass and water was readily available in streams and rivers. All the owners had to do was watch the cattle grow big, fat and healthy.

But by late November or early December, the grass was gone and the water froze. If the farmer wanted to keep that cow, he had to provide water and feed to keep the animal alive. Grain in winter was expensive, so those cows that were not needed for breeding or milk were slaughtered for meat — right around the time of Chanukah!

Because most Jews in those frozen lands were not wealthy, they sold the best cuts of the meat to others and kept the less desired cuts for themselves and their families. One of those cuts was the meat along the breastbone of the cow, the brisket. Some of those briskets weighed as much as 12 to 15 pounds and could feed a huge family and more just in time for the joyous Chanukah holiday.

The problem with brisket was that it was tough and stringy. People loved the flavor of the fattier double part, but the stringier single brisket – especially when it was simply cooked over a fire – resulted in very tough, stringy meat. Eventually, innovative cooks came up with ways to tenderize the meat and created sauces that helped make the tougher slab more palatable. They eventually added brine and other spices and began to slow cook the meat for as much as a day.

Slowly, over centuries, brisket gained popularity, with people adding onions, potatoes, vegetables and more. As brisket’s popularity grew, Americans of all religions caught on to the versatility of this meat. Today, everyone eats corned beef sandwiches, and brisket takes center stage at barbecue contests across the country.

Today, there’s an endless number of brisket recipes and brisket is still a traditional Chanukah food among many Ashkenazic families. It is a perfect pairing with latkes and, of course, soofganiyot. Here’s to Chanukah traditions!

My Mother’s Favorite Brisket Recipe (Meat)

Don’t be put off by the simplicity of this recipe. It is delicious. The key is to check the meat very carefully to avoid a steam burn and to keep adding water and maybe more ketchup as needed, especially after adding the potatoes which absorb a lot of the liquid.

1 brisket, 5 to 7 pounds both single and double

1 Tbsp. granulated garlic

1 Tbsp. onion powder

2 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1/2 cup canola oil

4 to 6 large onions, sliced

4 to 10 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced

4 to 5 stalks celery, thinly sliced

1 to 2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 to 3 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters or more so all pieces are similar sized

1 to 2 cups ketchup

2 to 5 cups water

Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the brisket and pat dry. Place on a platter and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the garlic, onion, paprika, salt and pepper in a small bowl and rub both sides liberally with the mixture. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet and add the canola oil. Add the onions and cook until lightly golden brown. Add the garlic and mix well. Cook until fragrant. 

Pour the onions into the bottom of a large Dutch oven or deep roasting pan. (I use two large steam table pans for stability.) Distribute them evenly over the bottom of the pan. Place the brisket in the pan and scatter the carrots and celery around the side. Mix the ketchup with two cups of water and pour over the brisket. Cover tightly with a double layer of heavy-duty foil. Place in the oven and bake for 2 hours. Remove from the oven and carefully loosen, then remove, the foil.

Peel and cut the potatoes. Add the potatoes, mixing them in with the carrots. Add 2 to 3 cups of water and, if the sauce tastes too thin, mix the water with more ketchup. The potatoes will absorb a lot of water, so make sure there is plenty of liquid. You can always remove the foil for the last hour of cooking to evaporate some liquid if there is too much. 

Cover tightly with the foil and place back in the oven for another 2 to 4 hours. After 2 hours, remove from the oven and carefully uncover. If there is little liquid, add more. If there is too much, place back in the oven uncovered, for another hour. Make sure the meat easily shreds when pulled with a fork. Let cool, season as desired and slice against the grain. Serves a crowd. 

NOTE: My mother often added frozen lima beans to the dish when she added the potatoes. I have made it with soaked, cooked, dried beans and lots more water. Delicious.

NOTE: You can also add some dry red wine like a deep burgundy or Malbec or you can add some tomato paste for more tomato flavor.

Brisket Roasted, Braised and More (Meat)

4 to 6 pound brisket, single and double, if possible

1/4 cup canola oil

1 Tbsp. kosher salt

2 Tbsp. garlic powder

2 Tbsp. onion powder

1 Tbsp. paprika or smoked paprika, if you like

2 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. dry mustard

2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar

3 cups low-sodium beef stock OR OMIT THE SALT

2 to 3 onions, roughly chopped

5 to 10 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

2 to 3 stalks celery, sliced

2 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the first 7 ingredients together and set aside.

Rinse and dry the brisket and place in a roasting pan. Rub the entire brisket with oil and then sprinkle liberally with the dry rub. Place the brisket back into the roasting pan and place in the oven. Roast, uncovered, for 45 minutes or until browned in several places. Remove from the oven and add the beef stock, onions, garlic, celery, carrots and the bay leaves.

Cover tightly with a double layer of heavy foil and place back in the oven. Lower the heat to 300 degrees and roast/braise for 3 to 5 hours, until the meat easily falls apart when pulled with a fork. Place the meat on a platter and tent with foil.

You can strain the liquid into a gravy boat or you can pour it into a pot (remove the bay leaves first) with all the vegetables and use an immersion blender to create a smooth, thicker sauce. Season to taste and, perhaps, add a bit of deep red wine. Serves 6 to 12.

Joni’s Signature Sweet and Sour Brisket (Meat) 

Cooking Time: overnight (about 9 to 11 hours)

I keep trying to get my family and friends to eat another kind of brisker, but they threaten a mutiny if I fail to deliver. So here we go. I roast this overnight — low and slow — for a melt-in-your-mouth dish that also makes delicious pulled brisket sandwiches.

8 to 12 pound whole brisket

3 (or more) pounds onions thinly sliced

1/8 to 1/4 cup minced garlic

1/2 cup canola oil, divided

1-1/2 cups dark brown sugar 

1 cup white vinegar 

1-1/2 to 2 cups ketchup 

1 to 2 cups water

NOTE: I use two full steam table pans (doubled for stability) for any brisket up to about 11 pounds. If the brisket is larger than 11 pounds, I cut a piece from the single end and cook it separately in a smaller roasting pan for fewer hours.

Slice the onions (a food processor makes quick work of this). Add half the oil to a large skillet and heat the oil for 10 to 15 seconds, over medium heat. Add half the onions and cook until the onions are lightly golden. Add half the garlic and mix well. Stir until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the mixture to the bottom of a large roasting pan and spread over the pan.

Place the brisket on top and adjust the meat to fit in the pan. Repeat with the rest of the oil and the onions and spread over the top of the meat.

 In a large bowl, mix the vinegar and sugar; mix until smooth. Add the ketchup and water and whisk until thoroughly blended. Pour the sauce over and around the meat. Make sure to leave at least an inch of space between the meat and the top of the pan. You may not need all the sauce. Refrigerate for later use. Cover tightly with a double sheet of foil and place in a 325-degree oven. FOR A VERY LARGE BRISKET: Roast for 1 hour. Reduce the heat to 225 degrees and roast overnight or for about 8 to 10 hours.

NOTE: FOR A SMALLER BRISKET: Roast at 300 degrees until the meat falls apart when gently pulled with a fork, about 4 to 7 hours.

Carefully remove the pan from the oven and carefully lift a corner of the foil away from you to avoid a steam burn. Test the meat and check the amount of liquid. If the pan needs more liquid, add the sauce from the fridge. If the meat is still tough, return to the oven and cook until the meat falls apart when gently pulled with a fork.

Let the meat cool and slice against the grain or break into pieces. I usually find that the meat falls apart, so I cut a long piece with the grain and then cut across the grain to make rectangular cubes. Place in half steamer pans (I uses two for stability) and fill with meat and sauce. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove the congealed fat and reheat in a 300 degree oven for about 1 hour. Add some water if needed before reheating.

TO FREEZE: After removing the fat, place in a freezer safe container and wrap with foil. Label and use within 2 months. Let defrost in the fridge for 1 to 3 days and reheat as above. Each pan should be enough to serve 10 to 12 people.