Brisket 101: Cook slowly and dont trim away all the fat

There was only one Rosh Hashanah in my cooking history that I did not make and serve brisket. In 1974, as a recent New York transplant to Palo Alto, I searched in vain for brisket in several local butcher shops. (One actually asked me if I wanted “Jewish meat.”) I substituted a pot roast but my family (and I) sorely missed our beloved brisket.

Today it’s a different story. Brisket is even available in Trader Joe’s and Costco.

What is brisket and why is it so popular as Jewish holiday fare?

Brisket is a beef cut taken from the breast section beneath the first five ribs, behind the foreshank. It is an inexpensive boneless cut that requires long, slow cooking to break down the collagen in the connective muscle tissues and achieve tenderness. Poor Eastern European Jews favored this cut because it was low in cost and high in taste and volume.

Brisket is usually prepared using a braising method, with a liquid that produces wonderful gravy. You’ll need to plan ahead when cooking fresh brisket because it needs 3-4 hours of cooking in a slow oven (usually 350 degrees.)

Some recipes call for quickly searing the meat before braising. It’s really a matter of personal preference. But first, a mini Brisket 101.

Do not tell the butcher to remove all the fat. Some fat is needed for rich taste and texture. (You can cut the fat off the brisket and skim the sauce after it’s done.)

Always buy more than you think you’ll need. Brisket shrinks to almost half its original size during cooking. It freezes beautifully and makes super sandwiches.

Place brisket fat side up in pan.

Make brisket two or three days in advance. Flavor improves within that time.

Allow cooked brisket and sauce to come to room temperature, then wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Always make sure to cut across the grain. Chilling the brisket allows you to make perfect, thin slices.

Reheat sliced brisket in cooking sauce.

Moroccan Brisket

Makes 6-8 servings

9 large garlic cloves

3 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

1 4 1/2- to 5-lb. flat-cut beef brisket

3 Tbs. olive oil

4 cups chopped onions

2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped

1 Tbs. minced peeled fresh ginger

1 tsp. ground coriander

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 to 3 cups dry red wine

1/2 cup beef stock

2/3 cup pitted prunes, quartered

2/3 cup apricots, quartered

Combine 3 garlic cloves, 1 tsp. cumin, salt, cinnamon and 1/4 tsp. pepper in processor. Spread on brisket. Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Heat oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add brisket to pot and sauté until brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to plate, fat side up.

Add onions to same pot. Sauté over medium-high heat 5 minutes. Add carrots, ginger, coriander, cayenne pepper, remaining 6 garlic cloves and 2 1/2 tsp. cumin; sauté 3 minutes. Add wine and boil until reduced almost to glaze, stirring up any browned bits, about 5 minutes. Return brisket to pot. Add stock and bring to simmer. Spoon some of vegetable mixture over brisket.

Cover pot and place in oven. Roast brisket 2 1/2 hours, basting every 30 minutes with pan juices. Add prunes and apricots. Cover; roast until brisket is tender, about 30 minutes longer. Cool brisket uncovered 1 hour. Wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Spoon off any solid fat from top of gravy; discard fat. Scrape gravy off brisket into pot. Place brisket on work surface. Slice brisket thinly across grain. Bring gravy in pot to boil over medium-high heat. Boil to thicken slightly, if desired. Season gravy with salt and pepper. Arrange sliced brisket in large ovenproof dish. Spoon gravy over. Cover with foil. (Can be made 2 days ahead; refrigerate.)

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to loufiszer@aol.com.