San Leandro sausage maker Bruce Aidells recalls grandmas brisket (plus a recipe!)

A beef brisket supper is associated with many of the Jewish holidays, but perhaps none more regularly than Chanukah. And there’s a good reason — the Festival of Lights always includes a Shabbat meal.

Sure, brisket is an inexpensive yet delicious cut that feeds a crowd and turns meltingly tender when cooked slowly at a low temperature. But it’s that last part that makes it perfect for a Sabbath supper when  your cooking needs to be finished before sunset. Brisket is the perfect make-ahead meal.

Other Chanukah traditions call for fried foods (to celebrate the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days) and dairy meals. But there almost always is a meat-based meal, as well.

Coffee and Porter Braised Brisket photo/ap/matthew mead

Bruce Aidells — owner and founder of Aidells sausage company in San Leandro — remembers that his grandmother, who kept a kosher home, always had an onion- and carrot-smothered brisket for Chanukah served alongside crispy potato pancakes. He says there was invariably a roasted chicken served, too.

Aidells, author of “The Complete Meat Cookbook,” says his mother also prepared a brisket, but braised it in a more traditional fashion using a jar of chili sauce, lots of onions and some onion soup mix for additional flavor in the gravy.

Aidells still has a love for brisket and, though he is not against a dry-roasting technique, he says that braising is a great way to add flavor to the meat. He prefers to use grass-fed beef for its superior flavor. If he’s looking to go leaner, he’ll prepare a bison brisket, which can be purchased from specialty meat shops.

When shopping for a brisket, Aidells says that even when buying the leaner first or flat end of the brisket (the most common cut at grocers), look for some marbling in the meat to ensure tenderness and the best possible flavor.

He also recommends purchasing a brisket with at least 1⁄4-inch of fat on the top (called the deckle). You may have to ask your butcher to cut it this way, as briskets most often are sold trimmed completely of visible fat.

This recipe for Chanukah is a variation on the traditional beer and chili sauce-braised brisket. It uses the bottled chili sauce in a nod to tradition, but then intensifies the flavors with some strong black coffee and a hearty porter beer. The result is a fork-tender pot roast with rich and flavorful mahogany-colored gravy.


Coffee and Porter Braised Brisket

Serves about 12

4-lb. brisket, flat half, trimmed of fat

1⁄2 tsp. salt

ground black pepper, to taste

2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered

6 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)

12-oz. bottle chili sauce

3 bottles porter beer,

12 oz. each

2 cups strong black coffee

Season the brisket with the salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven over high, heat the oil. Add the brisket and sear until browned all over, 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer the meat to a plate and set aside.

Add the onions and celery to the pot, then set the brisket over them. Add the chili sauce, beer and coffee. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook for 2 hours.

Uncover and cook until the brisket is fork tender, another 1 to 2 hours. If the liquid reduces too much, replace the cover. When ready, transfer the brisket to a plate and cover loosely with foil.

Skim any fat off the surface of the braising liquid. Using an immersion blender, purée the vegetables and braising liquid in the Dutch oven. Alternatively, use a ladle to transfer the vegetables and braising liquid, in batches if necessary, to a blender and purée until smooth. Return the sauce to the Dutch oven. Use caution when puréeing hot liquids.

Return the brisket to the Dutch oven with the sauce and heat on the stovetop until the meat is heated through, about 10 minutes. Slice the brisket into thin slices across the grain and serve topped with the sauce.