Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Braised Brisket

My recipe is adapted from one by David Rosengarten. His key idea was to use a Kobe (Wagyu) beef brisket. While Kobe beef tends to be expensive, the lesser cuts and grades, like chuck and brisket, are only a dollar or two more per pound than regular beef. The difference in the final product is amazing.

6 tablespoons simple olive oil or vegetable oil
3 lbs. onions, peeled and sliced evenly
4 teaspoons sweet paprika
8 tablespoons flour
One whole Wagyu brisket (first-cut), approx. 5 lbs.
1/4 cup crushed tomatoes
4 cups rich beef broth at room temperature
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
  1. Place 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot or sauté pan over high heat. When it’s hot, add half the onions, and cook them until they are nicely browned, just short of burned, and still a little crunchy. Don’t stir them until the brownness starts to take, then stir occasionally. The whole process may take 5-8 minutes. Remove and reserve. Repeat with remaining half of onions. Remove onions and combine with cooked and reserved onions. Stir in 2 teaspoons of paprika evenly. Reserve.
  2. Season the brisket well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Coat evenly with 6 tablespoons of the flour. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan you used for the onions. Place over high heat. When it’s hot, add the beef. Sear well on all sides until the beef is brown-black; this should take about 5 minutes per side. Remove beef, and sprinkle evenly with the remaining 2 teaspoons of paprika.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 300ºF.
  4. Select a large pan for braising the beef. Spread the reserved onions out in the bottom of the pan, making a bed that’s about the size of the beef. Spread the crushed tomatoes over the onions. Place the beef on the onion-tomato bed.
  5. Place the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour in a mixing bowl. Slowly blend in the beef stock, adding just a few tablespoons of stock at first to make a thick slurry. Then beat in the rest of the stock quickly. After you’ve made sure the flour is blended, pour the stock over and around the beef. The size of your pan will determine the depth of the stock in the pan; an ideal depth is anywhere from 1/4 way to 1/2 way up the side of the beef.
  6. Cover the pan very tightly with aluminum foil and place in the oven. Baste beef occasionally (once an hour or so) with braising liquid. Cook until beef is very tender; this may take 4-5 hours.
  7. When the brisket is tender, remove it from pan, and let rest for a few minutes. Meanwhile, skim as much fat from the gravy as possible. You may strain the onions out, but I prefer to keep them in. Cut the beef, against the grain, into slices that are about 1/4” thick. Cover meat with gravy and serve.

NOTE: I did not baste this brisket hourly. I basted it once after about 2 hours. Brisket in a tightly sealed pan will not require so much basting.

Friday, March 2, 2007


It's time for Purim here, and the wild boys are expecting lots and lots of hamentaschen. Hamentaschen are traditional Ashekenazic Jewish cookies usually eaten at Purim. Purim is a Jewish holiday, a feast, celebrating the deliverance of the Persian Jews from Haman's plot to kill them all. We read the Book of Esther, give mutual gifts of food and drink, give charity to the poor, and generally whoop it up and have a good time.

Hamentaschen are triangular cookies traditionally filled with fruit. They can also be filled with nuts, chocolate or cheese. "Hamentaschen" is a Yiddish word roughly translated as "Haman's pockets"; in modern Israel these cookies are known as oznei Haman, "Haman's ears" (modern Hebrew). Some people make their own fruit filling for these cookies. I do not because I have had success with the canned or jarred fillings I mention below.

The original recipe comes from my Aunt Mary, my favorite aunt. She is a wonderful woman who always has a kind word to say about people. Aunt Mary bakes and freezes hamentaschen all year-round so she always has some ready for my boys. She is a phenomenal cook of traditional Jewish foods, and I am grateful she has shared many of her time-honored and beloved recipes with me. No matter where I go in this world, the tastes of hamentaschen or stuffed cabbage and the smell of brisket bring me back to childhood holidays spent at Aunt Mary and Uncle Ozzie's house. They are indelible.

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour, plus extra for rolling
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1/4 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla
Canned or jarred filling:
Solo® brand poppyseed, apricot, cherry. almond; Lekvar prune butter; Nutella®

Special Equipment: sifter or sieve; pastry blender; zipper bags; rolling pin; parchment paper or silicone baking mats (Silpat®); 4-4.5" round cookie cutter or a clean, empty 28-oz tomato can with both ends removed; cookie sheets; cooling racks

Cook's notes: The dough will work better if you make it in advance and let it chill in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. If you do not have time to let the dough chill for that long, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes. Do not double this recipe! I have tried on several occasions and have ended up with a big, unwieldy mess. If you intend to make several batches of cookies, as I always do, make each dough mixture individually.

Make the dough:
  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and sugar into a large non-reactive bowl. Cut the butter into the dry mixture using a pastry blender, until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture.
  2. In a separate non-reactive bowl, beat 1 egg with the orange juice and vanilla until well-blended. Pour the egg mixture into the well of the dry mixture. Incorporate the dry into the wet with a fork until blended.
  3. Gently squeeze the dough together until it forms a ball. Easier said than done: it will take a couple minutes to squeeze and incorporate all the solids together. If your mixture seems a little dry, add another tablespoon of orange juice. If the mixture seems a little wet, add a little more flour. You're looking for the dough to just come together but not be sticky or crumbly. (This is the hardest step.) Place the ball of dough into a zipper bag. Squeeze out all the air and gently flatten the dough into a disk. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Make the cookies:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line each cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. In a small dish, mix together 1 egg with a couple tablespoons of water to make an egg wash.
  2. Dust your work surface with flour. Dust your rolling pin with flour. Roll out the dough until it's about 1/8-inch thick. Add more flour, a little at a time, if the dough is soft and sticky.
  3. Use the cookie cutter or can to cut out large circles. Place each circle on the lined cookie sheet. You can fit 6-8 circles on one pan.
  4. Put one generous tablespoon of filling in the center of each circle. Dip your forefinger in the egg wash and trace the edge of the circle of dough. Pull up the rounded edges of the dough and pinch together to form a triangle pastry; leave a small opening in the center of each cookie so you can see the filling. Pinch each seam together well, otherwise it will burst open in the oven.
  5. Bake at 350ºF in the center of the oven for approximately 20 minutes or until the cookies are light brown. Cool on a wire rack. Stored in a covered container, the hamentaschen will keep for several days.
Makes 8-10 large hamentaschen. This is an easy recipe to make with and for children, and I encourage you to do so. My boys anxiously await Purim every year so they can "help" me make hamentaschen. Thank you, Aunt Mary, for the legacy.