Ask people -- Jewish or not -- to name foods that make them think of Jewish cuisine, and chances are good that they'll mention brisket. Of course, brisket has a wide appeal, especially in America. Brisket is a cornerstone of traditional Texas barbecue. It's also a mainstay in New England cookery, where it's a key component of the Irish Boiled Dinner. As a standard of the Ashkenazi recipe canon, it's generally braised with aromatics, though there are as many recipes -- from sweet and sour to thoroughly savory -- as there are Jewish cooks who make it.
Why Is Brisket So Popular for Jewish Sabbath and Holiday Meals?
Because brisket is an inherently tough cut of meat -- it's comprised of the cow's strong chest muscles - it benefits from slow cooking at low heat. Plus, it not only stands up to reheating, it often gets tastier and more tender. Cooking is prohibited on the Jewish Sabbath, and there are restrictions on how one may cook on holidays, so brisket, which can be prepared in advance and reheats well, can be ideal.
Plus, as a larger cut of meat, brisket is well suited to serving a crowd. And as a do-ahead entree, it's a boon for hosts, who end up with less last-minute holiday prep work and less mess to clean up. Giora Shimoni reports that his mother -- like many like-minded cooks -- "makes her holiday brisket a week in advance, and then stores it in the freezer until the holiday."
Tips and Techniques for Preparing Great Brisket
- Seek out a good butcher, and talk over your needs. Many people buy a first cut brisket, assuming this is better or higher quality than a second cut brisket. In truth, they are simply different -- the first cut, also known as the flat cut, is leaner, while the second cut, or point cut, has more marbling, and as a result, tends to come out more tender. (If you're feeding a large crowd, you can buy a whole brisket, which is simply the first and second cut unseparated. (If you're shopping in Israel, Shimoni recommends buying the cut known as meat #3). The brisket should have good marbling between white fat and dark colored meat. The fat should be distributed throughout the meat rather than just in one area.
- Low, slow cooking generally results is a juicier, more tender brisket. In addition, there is less shrinkage of the meat at lower cooking temperatures.
- Perhaps most importantly, it's essential to slice the brisket correctly. Brisket should be thinly sliced against the grain, otherwise you're basically guaranteeing that the meat will be tough.