At my house, Passover briskets go the way of chocolate chip cookies — and by that I mean my treatment of them as recipes. I never make Seder brisket the same way from year to year. There’s always a tweak, a Food section test, a particularly lovely slab o’ beef from a different butcher or producer. This is slightly frustrating, my mate tells me, but like those classic crisp or chewy rounds, there are too many fine variations around to declare loyalty and stick with a single way to prepare brisket at this time. Thank you for your concern.
For purposes of this review, I’ll refer to options in our Recipe Finder database; that’s where my attention has been turned, appropriately, for the past few years. Not all the briskets I’ve appreciated were included in our Passover gallery of favorites, but that’s just because the recipes lacked a decent photo. An oversight I hope to correct, after the jump.
And none of the briskets I make for this holiday have much to do with the ones like my colleague Tim Carman and Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin produce when the weather’s warm and the beer’s flowing. Those specimens have a char and an aroma of oak that need no fruity sauce, potato kugel or tender spring vegetables alongside them. Although now that I think about it, the size of my guest list and personal preference often mean that I end up searching for the same cut — a whole brisket with fat cap still attached — that they use.
My mother was committed to a package of onion soup mix as the sole flavor vehicle for brisket, and so the holiday’s main course (and weeknight chuck roasts) of my youth came out gray and salty. However, this Brisket With Onion Gravy provides a deep, oniony goodness without any packaged assistance. An extra pound of yellow onions does not hurt here, and I find that this is one of several recipes in which Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton) plays a vital role. To wit: Food writer Nina Simonds’s Tender Brisket and Vegetables With Smoky Paprika, which even calls for a can of tomato sauce yet manages to yield neither much sweetness or sauce. Hoping the kosher-for-Passover Product Police look the other way.
Speaking of sweet, Brisket Nina hits the top of the charts — with two cups of ketchup and two cups of brown sugar. The recipe beat 19 other briskets at a cook-off at Temple Beth El in Alexandria in 2005; although I tested it the way it was written, I ran with it for Passover several years in a row, decreasing those ingredient amounts, upping the recipe’s dry red wine and experimenting with vibrant peppercorns of many colors and roasted garlic puree. Once uncovered for the second go-round in the oven, the sugar turns some of the sliced brisket edges into a molasses-meat chew, and that’s not a bad thing.
Grandma Rubenstein’s version, also from the temple cook-off, sent me scurrying for small cans of Sauce Arturo, which some Passover brisket cooks have come to rely on the same way that Gold’s Duck Sauce has become a standard for concocting semi-homemade kosher Chinese food. All I can say is, the stuff does lend a unique flavor — even though the ingredients listed on the label are not mysterious in the least.
Abigail’s Top-Secret Brisket of Beef has had a good run at my house, and is probably the favorite of the family who’s been holding first night Seder before our second night for the past two decades. Fresh pears are the unexpected, magic key; I use fresh herbs instead of the dried ones called for and tend to change the carrots into parsnips. But it’s very good, and possibly my favorite thus far.
The most important notion about a Passover brisket is to make it ahead, of course, so the meat relaxes and infuses with whatever flavors you’ve added. Whatever fat congeals in the fridge can easily be dispensed with. Bet I’ll have plenty of company Wednesday or Thursday night, waiting around after “The Colbert Report” and beyond to haul a foil-wrapped roasting pan out of the oven. See you on Twitter.
Do you have a favorite without a photograph? Tell us about it in the comments below.