Brisket, a Love Story: New cookbook tells all about a traditional comfort food

A new cookbook tells all about a traditional comfort food in time for Hanukkah, which arrives Tuesday

I have the perfect gift already chosen for my father this Hanukkah: a new cookbook, "The Brisket Book: A Love Story with Recipes" by Stephanie Pierson. Brisket is one of my father's favorite foods and it's what many of us crave on this holiday. Yum -- "gently, meltingly tender home-cooked brisket, at once filling and fulfilling."

Irresistible. And here is an entire cookbook devoted to brisket. With pictures, cartoons, silly factoids and jokes.

Are you supposed to laugh when you read a cookbook? And why not? As long as you are laughing along with the cookbook -- not because of a mistake printed in it. You'll laugh at the altered photo of a family arriving from somewhere in Eastern Europe (judging by the clothes) to America. Laden with briskets. Check it out, on Page 16.

You also will laugh at the brisket joke; see Page 15. Exactly like the Ole and Lena joke Garrison Keillor tells. About the golf clubs Lena has picked out for her new husband, who is a lefty -- they're to be used after Ole dies. Except this joke involves a man named Abie, his wife, Bessie, a brisket and a shivah.

You do not have to be Jewish to love brisket. It's comfort food that appeals to nearly everyone. As Ms. Pierson writes: "Home-cooked briskets are at home all over the world."

And briskets have been cooked all over the world. The technique of braising, which is the method by which most briskets are cooked (if they are not barbecued, and there's plenty more about that in another chapter), "dates back more than 2,400 years to China and was first introduced to Eastern Europe around the 16th century."

So if you're looking for a unique book, a chuckle, or a great way to make brisket, you'll want to pick up this book. It offers a little history on one very specific subject, plus a barbecue guide and ideas (though no recipes) for brisket sides -- potatoes, noodles, kasha varniskes, kugel and even broccoli, along with wine or other beverage ideas for many of the styles of brisket.

This book is the perfect companion to a plate of brisket. Besides potato latkes, that is. According to a quote in the book from novelist Gary Shteyngart: "Reading while eating brisket is one of the most voluptuous things that you can do with your time."

Nach Waxman's Brisket of Beef

Nach Waxman is owner of the very best cookbook store, New York's Kitchen Arts & Letters. He grew up "in a tradition of brisket on the Lower East Side." This recipe, first published in "The New Basics Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, employs "interim slicing," a technique Mr. Waxman credits to his mother-in-law. "By cutting the meat and putting it back in the pot, you've created more surface area for browning. Interim slicing lets every piece be exposed to heat and juices and allows the flavor to penetrate the entire brisket ... each piece gets a rich flavor."

  • 6-pound first-cut beef brisket, trimmed so that a thin layer of fat remains
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons corn oil
  • 8 medium onions, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
  • 1 carrot, peeled and trimmed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly dust brisket with flour, then sprinkle with pepper to taste.

Heat oil over medium-high heat in large ovenproof enameled cast-iron or other heavy pot with lid, just large enough to hold brisket snugly. Brown brisket on both sides until crusty brown areas appear here and there, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Transfer brisket to platter.

Turn up heat a bit; add onions to pot. Stir constantly with wooden spoon, scraping up browned bits stuck to bottom of pot. Cook until onions have softened and developed a rich brown color, but aren't yet caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes.

Turn off heat. Place brisket and any accumulated juices on onions. Spread tomato paste over brisket as if you were icing a cake. Sprinkle with salt and more pepper to taste. Add garlic and carrot to pot. Cover pot, transfer to oven and cook brisket 1 1/2 hours.

Transfer brisket to cutting board and, using very sharp knife, slice meat across grain into approximately 1/8-inch-thick slices. Return the slices to pot, overlapping them at an angle so you can see a bit of the top edge of each slice. Check seasonings and, if absolutely necessary, add 2 to 3 teaspoons of water to pot.

Cover the pot and return to oven. Lower heat to 325 degrees and cook brisket until fork-tender, about 2 hours. Check once or twice during cooking to make sure the liquid is not bubbling away. If it is, add a few teaspoons water -- but not more. Also, each time you check, spoon some of liquid on top of roast so that it drips down between slices.

It is ready to serve with its juices, but in fact, it's even better the second day. To do so, reheat, covered, about 1 hour in 325 degree oven.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

-- Adapted from "The Brisket Book: A Love Story with Recipes" by Stephanie Pierson (Andrews McMeel, 2011, $29.99)

Joan Nathan's My Favorite Brisket

This is adapted from Joan Nathan's "Jewish Cooking in America." There is a subtitle to the recipe: "Not Too Gedempte Fleysch," translated as "not too well stewed." Ms. Nathan likes to keep the fat on the meat while it's cooking and take it off after the brisket has cooked and cooled, serving the dish the next day.

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 5-pound beef brisket
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 onions, peeled and diced
  • 10-ounce can tomatoes (I couldn't find this size can, so I'd use a 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained)
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 stalks celery with leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 6 to 8 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagional
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Sprinkle brisket with salt and season with pepper to taste; rub with garlic. Brown brisket in oil in large skillet.

Put onions in large casserole or large Dutch oven. Put brisket fat-side up on onions. Cover with tomatoes, wine, celery, bay leaf, thyme and rosemary. Cover (with foil or lid) and bake 3 hours, basting often with pan juices.

Add carrots and parsley. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more, until brisket is fork-tender (there is a light pull on the fork as it is removed from meat) and carrots are cooked.

This is best prepared in advance and refrigerated so fat can be easily skimmed from gravy.

To serve, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Reheat gravy and vegetables in saucepan on stove. Trim all visible fat from brisket. Place brisket on what was fat side down on cutting board. Look for the grain, the muscle lines of brisket. With sharp knife, cut across grain.

Put sliced brisket in roasting pan. Pour hot gravy over; cover and reheat in oven about 30 minutes.

Makes about 10 servings.

-- Adapted from "The Brisket Book: A Love Story with Recipes" by Stephanie Pierson (Andrews McMeel, 2011, $29.99)

Miriam Rubin: . First Published December 15, 2011 5:00 AM


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