I blame it all on the brisket. Without the recipe, I wouldn’t have gone into the restaurant business, I wouldn’t have started writing about food, and I’d still be a happy corporate type with a regular paycheck and a mythical creature called a pension plan. Actually, I blame it all on my former husband. The brisket recipe started with him. And the annual fair at my kids’ school.
TOP 5 BRISKET TIPS
No. 1 Don't mince the vegetables or they will cook down to mush. Cut the celery, carrots and onions into pieces of about the same size. Quarter the onions and cut the celery into 1-inch lengths. If the carrots are large, cut them in half lengthwise at the thick part and cut again to match the size of the celery pieces.
No. 2 Keep the pot tightly covered. If you are using aluminum foil, crimp the edges to seal in the moisture.
No. 3 Don't stir the sauce. It will blend and thicken on its own. At the two-hour mark, if the sauce seems skimpy (it should cover all the vegetables), add a little more beer or ketchup or a bit of both.
No. 4 Try to complete the cooking an hour or so before serving. The meat will be juicier and easier to slice.
No. 5 Slice the brisket as thinly as you can. Using a long, sharp knife makes all the difference. Never use a serrated knife on a brisket. It tears the meat to shreds -- yummy shreds, but not attractive.
At first it was manageable. We made brisket occasionally, like normal people. It was our holiday staple. We seared it on the stove, chopped the vegetables, slathered on the “secret” sauce and put it in the oven with a bottle or two of dark beer. We brought it to every potluck and family gathering.
Then my husband, king of the next-day-sandwich-is-better club, noticed that a brisket sandwich would be a great addition to the annual fundraiser at the kids’ school. We’d set it up next to the mom who made spring rolls and not too close to the cotton candy machine. We’d cook a few briskets, buy a few dozen onion rolls, sharpen our knives and set up a little hand-sliced brisket stand. We’d bring out cutting boards and ladle each sandwich with just enough pan gravy to keep it moist. That year, I made eight briskets. It seemed like a lot. We sold out in less than an hour.
Next year, I upped it to 20 briskets, but our “fame” had spread. We were down to the raveling ends of the meat well before noon. The next year we made 36. My hands wore out from the slicing action. Our brisket stand became such a hit that my husband decided it could be the center spoke of an empire of restaurants. We opened one, then two, and finally there were three Pommefrite restaurants in the Boston area where you could get a really great brisket sandwich. (We served other food too, but the brisket was our signature dish.)
The simplest recipe and the secret to the sauce
We were invited to serve brisket at all sorts of food events, at fancy fundraisers in hotels, at grocery stores, at kitchenware stores. (Good publicity for the restaurants, so we gleefully obliged.) We handed out recipe cards with our brisket recipe. At one point in those years, I calculated that I had cooked more than 5,000 briskets with my tiny little hands.
Then, one day, I couldn’t face another brisket. Ultimately, one at a time, we closed our three restaurants. For about a year, I did not cook a single brisket. And then it was Hanukkah again. Time to cook brisket.
It is probably the best and the simplest brisket recipe in the world. I share it with you for this holiday season (and for all those other brisket-worthy events). I also share with you the secret of our special sauce: a big bottle of Heinz ketchup.
Total cooking time 3½ hours
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Sear brisket on both sides in a heavy roasting pan or a Dutch oven.
- Add vegetables to the bottom of the roasting pan, place the meat on top and pour in the beer and ketchup, making sure the top of the meat is covered with a layer of ketchup.
- Cook 3 hours, covered.
- Take the lid off for 30 minutes and continue to cook, allowing the brisket to brown.
- Let cool on top of the oven before slicing across the grain. Finding and following the grain is very important. Think of the grain in brisket as if it were a collection of thin strands of yarn, arranged so they lay in a neat bundle. Cut vertically across the strands, following the slight twists and flows along the meat.
*Note: Add 1 tablespoon sugar if you use a different brand of ketchup. Heinz is sweeter than most.
Zester Daily contributor Louisa Kasdon is a Boston-based food writer, former restaurant owner and founder of letstalkaboutfood.com. She is a columnist for the Boston Phoenix, the food editor for Stuff Magazine and has contributed to Fortune, MORE, Cooking Light, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor, among others.
Photo: Beef brisket. Credit: How2Heroes.com