A Brisket to Remember
We sat down with Alix Wall, local writer and founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals, to get her take on why you should cook brisket this Hanukkah.
For many Jews, brisket is synonymous with festive occasions and is often enjoyed year-round. Why is brisket such a beloved holiday favorite?
Because brisket is delicious! But really, because it’s more of a traditional Jewish food, not a symbolic one, brisket is prepared all year long. Growing up, brisket was something my family ate on Hanukkah and Passover. Many Jews eat it on Rosh Hashanah too. It obviously depends on the family, and everyone’s recipe is different, but to me, eating brisket is about celebration.
You’ve written about your family recipe, specifically your late mother’s, and the process you undertook to find that recipe after her death. Tell us, what is so special about her brisket?
I grew up eating my mom’s savory sweet plum brisket and always remembered it as the most delicious brisket I’d ever had. For years after she passed, I stopped eating meat, so by the time I cared about replicating it, I had no idea where she had gotten it. I kept scouring Jewish cookbooks but nothing was quite right. Eventually I did find the recipe, some 10 years after my mother’s death, hidden in one of her old handmade recipe books; it had originally been published in a newspaper. The recipe calls for canned plums, an ingredient I had never used before. To me, it has a wonderful savory sweet balance of flavors, though much of typical Ashkenazi Jewish cooking is on the sweet side. There are Jewish brisket recipes where you braise it in a can of Coke or Dr. Pepper and add a packet of Lipton’s onion soup mix (I do not endorse those recipes). These days my palate has shifted to prefer a more savory brisket. I especially like my friend Leah Koenig’s Red Wine and Honey Brisket from her book, Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes and Customs for Today’s Kitchens.
As someone who certainly knows her brisket, what advice do you have for people attempting to cook brisket for the first time?
I think most people assume cooking brisket is intimidating when they’ve never made it before, but really all it comes down to are high-quality ingredients and time. It’s important to start with a really good piece of meat, preferably grass-fed. Then you need to make sure you season it well with salt and pepper. And get a solid sear on each side of the meat – searing it for at least five minutes a side. After that, it’s about putting together a sauce that works with your palate (check out this recipe here) and letting the oven do the rest of the work. For a really flavorful brisket, I’d recommend cooking it the day before you plan on serving it. Less stress that way, too!
What sides do you typically serve alongside your brisket? Any favorites?
Well, for me and most Jews I think, especially at Hanukkah, latkes are non-negotiable. There’s a reason why the meat and potatoes combo is such a classic, and when you’re talking about fried potatoes, what’s not to love? I love the classic potato latke, but really, any root vegetable makes a great latke, from kohlrabi to sweet potato to celery root. [Editor’s note: That said, if you don’t have time to make them yourself, or don’t want to spend your evening at the stove, why not pick up delicious prepared latkes?] I also always like to serve some kind of green vegetable. Not traditionally Jewish, but seasonal greens round out the meal nicely. Whatever recipe you choose, don’t be afraid of brisket! It’s a delicious excuse to gather your loved ones around the table all year long.
Follow Alix Wall on Twitter to stay in the loop on all her eating adventures.