I’m one of those people who, when surrounded by a strong accent, will start to unconsciously mimic what I hear, which is ironic (or pathetic, depending on your point of view) since I am not a very good mimic. When I lived in Scotland my speech became peppered with “Och aye” and “A dinnae ken” and my pronunciation for words like aluminum and vitamin changed. My American family thought I’d developed a serious Scottish accent, though the Scots were not fooled one bit and referred to me as the wee American lassie. It happened again when my husband and I took our kids down to Louisiana to help with hurricane Katrina recovery. Despite being a lifelong Northerner, I developed a bit of a southern accent while we were there. Yes, it is embarrassing when I find myself doing it, but it really is subconscious. At least it doesn’t happen after watching tv or I might have to give up Downton Abbey on Sunday nights.
Just as my ear is swayed by a dialect I am immersed in, I’ve noticed my cooking goes through changes depending on what I expose myself to. It could be the cookbook I am currently reading, a food styling shoot I was recently on, the people I live with, or the city I find myself in. I’d never tasted spätzle until my husband, who’d lived in Germany for a year, introduced me to it. Now it’s a regular at our dinners. Seven years in Brooklyn gave me a fluency in Bialys, baklava, knishes, and egg creams. While my friend Allison (who is Jewish and Italian) introduced me to Matzah Balls, Borscht, Chopped Liver, and Brisket.
Allison’s Brisket (she has more than one, but this is my favorite) is something I make infrequently because it is so melt-in-your-mouth delicious you tend to keep eating until eventually you find yourself in a catatonic lump on the couch. You can adjust the soporific effect of this dish by eating it with heaping spoonfuls of horseradish. With winter ever so slowly giving up its hold on us (yes, I still have a few patches of snow in the yard) I decided to make brisket last week. It might make you sleepy, but it is one of the ultimate comfort foods, and guaranteed to take the chill out of winter.
For those of you who are uninitiated in the ways of brisket here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Allison suggests using the First cut. Second cut isn’t second-rate, it just has more fat.
- You don’t need to brown the meat, but you can if you want to.
- Pay attention to your liquid levels – too much and it’s soup, too little and it’s dry.
- Brisket is always better the next day, it really is.
If you want to know more about the dos and don’ts of brisket cooking you can read here or get Stephanie Pierson’s The Brisket Book. A Love Story with Recipes. In my original recipe I was told to use “tons of onions”, hmmm tons. I love onions so I use a lot (though not quite a ton). It depends on the size of your pan and your tastebuds. So without further ado:
2-3 pounds onions, peeled and sliced
6-8 pounds Brisket, first cut if you want it a bit leaner
16 ounces beef broth
16 ounces water
1 bottle chili sauce or 1 cup catsup and 1/2 cup horseradish
1/3 cup Worcester sauce
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
14 medium size carrots, peeled and cut into short lengths
8 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes
Preheat the oven to 325°F. I had two pieces of meat and used a long shallow pan. Since I didn’t have any chili sauce I subbed in catsup and horseradish, which tasted fine. Basically you add everything in the ingredient list, in the order they are written above, stopping when you get to the carrots and potatoes. I wasn’t using a lidded pot so I covered it all with a sheet of parchment paper and then crimped a huge piece of aluminum foil on top. If you have a lidded braising enameled cast iron pan you can use that.
I did sear the meat first, but when I talked to Allison she later said she doesn’t bother with that step any more, so it’s your choice. Bake for three hours. Add your carrots and potatoes, recover and bake another hour.
At this point you have two choices. You can dig in, but you won’t get nice, pretty slices, or you can be patient, let it all cool down, slice the meat across the grain when it is cold the next day, and reheat the pretty slices. To be honest I do not have the patience nor self control.