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The Brisket is Dead, Long Live the Brisket

April 24, 2019

It’s been said that an eternity is a ham and two people. The clever phrase has been attributed to Dorothy Parker, but who knows. For the sake of this post, it doesn’t really matter. The idea is that eating through a large piece of meat can take forever.

About a year ago I picked up that whole fresh ham from Adventure in Food Trading. That 20 pound, bone-in beast, took months for our family of four to finish. Thank goodness for freezers. But we really don’t bring a lot of hams into the house. Maybe one day that will change. Ham is freaking delicious.

In preparation for Passover though, we did buy a large brisket and a whole leg of lamb. Today, I want to talk a bit about the brisket. Largely because we just recently finished the monster, and then we were strangely compelled to go out for more brisket.

Perhaps Passover without some brisket in the house is like an Easter without the eggs?

My Nana has a brisket recipe she swears by, and it’s fantastically delicious. Don’t mess with Nana’s brisket. It requires a very special can of some hard to find seasoning, that closely resembles tomato paste. The last time I checked, my cousin keeps a stockpile of those cans in his pantry.

Cousin J was always the good one. He and his family will be the one to keep these family traditions alive. Me? I would prefer to just wing it.

Although, perhaps it’s not quite fair to say I was winging it. I do have a basic understanding about cooking principles and complementary flavors. And Julia Child had written up a technique for cooking the brisket that I adapted. My stepfather was going to be coming over for Passover, so it was important to avoid garlic and peppers in the preparation of the meat. But that was no big deal.

Mostly, I just used what was around the house.

As it turned out, I had some portobello mushroom jam that was taking up space in the fridge. There were some dregs remaining in a box of red wine. We have more chicken stock around the house than we will likely use this summer. Cans of tomatoes are always about. And of course, there had to be onions. Even with Mrs. Fussy’s aversion to the alliums.

Salted well, and vacuum sealed with a rub of coriander, black pepper, celery seed, and the mushroom jam, the meat sat in the fridge overnight. The next morning, it went into a covered roasting pan with the liquids, two thinly sliced onions, a can of whole plum tomatoes, and a pound of peeled carrots.

For some reason it took a long long time for the brisket to become tender. That’s how it goes. You have to let the food guide you, and not be a slave to the recipe. But after cooking for about five hours at 300 degrees, and being basted every 30-45 minutes or so, the thing finally was ready to come out of the oven.

The meat was separated from the veg which was separated from the gravy, and everything went into the refrigerator until the next day. Fat was lifted off the gravy, and the gravy along with the onions were pureed together to form a sauce.

Cold brisket was sliced, and those slices were placed in a baking pan, covered with some of the sauce and carrots, and heated through before being served for the festive meal.

That was a pretty tasty dinner.

Leftovers were great too. Cold brisket sandwiches on matzah? It’s the stuff of legend. And those last few ounces from the end of the brisket? The meat was chopped up and formed into brisket quesadillas. Of course, since it’s Passover, they were made on corn tortillas. But instead of frying them in oil, I used some of the reserved beef fat I lifted from the chilled sauce. Oh yeah. That was delicious.

But now all the brisket is gone. So what did we do? We headed over to The Memphis King!

There we didn’t just get brisket. We also got pulled pork, ribs, slaw, and baked beans. Passover can be a drag, but it can also be a chance to eat a crap ton of delicious meaty treats. One year when I was working in San Francisco, I found the best place in Chinatown for roast pork. I still remember how good that was.

Actually, the best part of yesterday’s meal at Memphis King were those ribs. Dear god they were good. And I figured that the brisket and the pulled pork would survive the reheat better than the ribs. So we brought home what we couldn’t finish.

That means now we are back to having some brisket in the house! Although this brisket feels like an entirely different animal from the last one. It’s so delightfully smokey and crusty, I can barely contain my joy, and am looking forward to seeing how these few slices of deeply flavored meat gets worked into a family dinner. Maybe it can season a potato hash, or provide some depth to a frittata.

And soon I hope to make my first batch of lamb curry from that leg. My plan is to use to Instant Pot, which should be fun. I’ll let you know how it goes. Cheers!

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