Recipe: My Mother’s Brisket

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From the essay, "Kosher. Or Not." by Barbara Rushkoff, included in The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage:

My Mother’s Brisket

My mom is one of those people who can look at a pot simmering and just know what to throw in. Sure, she does her taste-testing along the way, but usually she’s right on the money. Her brisket is the one dish that I can think about and almost taste. It is so good, so tender, so perfect, and the aroma of it when it is cooking is absolutely tantalizing. So, I’d like to share it with you.

The problem is that my mother cooks from intuition. With that, she mixes in stuff she’s gleaned from newspapers (one year she threw a can of Coca-Cola on the brisket—it was surprisingly delicious) and whatever her memory serves. When I approached her about a recipe for her brisket I was met with some very vague instructions, along with some asides that got thrown in for good measure.

First: Get thee to a kosher butcher. “Get a brisket, not too big, not too small.”

I wish I could tell you what not too big or not too small is, but you’ll have to figure it out for yourself. Get one that has no fat through the middle. Ask the kosher butcher; he will know.

Once you get the brisket home, rinse it in cold water and sprinkle it with salt, pepper, and garlic to taste. I can’t give you amounts. As my mother says, “You’ll know.”

Turn on your oven to 400˚F. When I asked my mother if she was sure, she asked me if I had a hot oven. I think so. Ovens are hot, right?

Get a large red onion, slice it, and put it on the bottom of the roasting pan with the meat on top (fat side down). My mother pours two cans of au jus gravy over the whole thing and then something she calls Gravy Master.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“It comes in a bottle,” she says, not really helping me.

“How much do I use?”

“A little bit.”

This is where I suggest nixing the Gravy Master and adding a packet of dry onion soup mix or a mixture of spices you like (example: paprika, garlic powder, salt, pepper). As I said, my mother used a can of Coca-Cola one year.

Cover the meat with a tight lid and put the meat in the oven. My mother likes to “start high” (400˚F) and then turn it down after an hour of cooking to 375˚F. It all depends on your oven, she says. She has a hot one. Do you?

Overall cooking time is 3 to 3½ hours. How do you know it’s done? It’s just one of those things that you “know.”After 3 to 3½ hours it really does finish cooking, and it’s perfect. Really.

And then, magically, you open the oven and have a wonderful brisket. Let it cool, slice, remove fat from the gravy, and serve. Enjoy!

From The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage, © 2013 by Caroline M. Grant & Lisa Catherine Harper. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston, MA.