Monday, April 14, 2008

Meat and Potatoes, Passover-Style

Ed. note: This post originally appeared in my 2008 food blog Fork It Over on the website of the Rochester Insider magazine, which is now Metromix Rochester. Since the old blog is no longer available online, I'm re-posting some of those posts here and backdating them to their original posting dates. Although in most cases they are specific to Rochester, hopefully you'll still find them somewhat interesting!  ~Rachel, 6/27/10

The Jewish holiday of Passover is less than a week away, so today I'd like to share a traditional (and delicious!) holiday recipe with you. This version comes from Sue Shulman, a friend of my mother's, and it has been passed around the Mah Jongg-playing Jewish women of my hometown of Sharon, Massachusetts for years. For those of you who don't celebrate Passover (and those of you who do, but dread Kosher-for-Passover food), don't stop reading just yet. Brisket is for everyone who likes a good meat and potatoes dish. If you're familiar with Texas-style brisket, this is nothing like that. Jewish-style brisket is a melt-in-your mouth meal of slow-cooked beef in a sweet, brown, gravy-like sauce. It is often garnished with potatoes, carrots, and onions. Turn on the oven and find some hungry friends. It's time for a feast.

Why brisket?
A quick survey of my parents and some friends revealed that no one really knows why brisket is eaten at many Passover Seders.* If I had to guess, I'd say it's because it pleases the pickiest eaters, you can easily make enough to serve to your entire extended family, and it can be made Kosher for Passover without using strange ingredients. Or, in the words of Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, "Tradition!"

Brisket can be made the same day that you will serve it, but the beauty of brisket is that it gets better the more you cook it. I like to start making it a few days or even a week ahead of time, then freeze or refrigerate it depending on how many days will pass, and then cook it for a few more hours right before serving it.

Beef brisket (3-4 lbs) - This size generally serves 4-8 people. Get more than you think you'll need, because you'll want to eat these leftovers for days.
Onion Soup Mix (1 package)
Ketchup (1 cup)
Ginger Ale (1.5 cup) - Some people use beer instead. I've tried it both ways, and they're pretty similar, but I like using ginger ale a little bit better because it's sweeter.
Cranberry Sauce (1 can)
Small, whole canned potatoes (1 or 2 cans)
Carrots and onions (optional) - I'm boring; I like plain meat and potatoes. Many people include carrots and onions, though. Just chop them up and throw them in with everything else.

Note: If you follow Passover dietary laws, some of the ingredients listed above are typically not Kosher for Passover, but it's easy to find appropriate replacements. For example, replace ginger ale with diet ginger ale, which does not have corn syrup. Ketchup and cranberry sauce that do not contain corn syrup can be found in the Passover section of most supermarkets. I like to do my Passover shopping at Pittsford Wegmans--there's a very large selection there--and I've heard that Tops also has a large Passover section.

What to do:
Line a 13'' x 9'' baking dish with heavy foil. Place the brisket in the dish. Mix all the other ingredients (except for the potatoes) together and pour over the brisket. Remove the potatoes from the can, discard the liquid, and arrange the potatoes around the brisket. Cover the baking dish tightly and completely with foil. Resist the temptation to open it while it's cooking!

Bake at 350 degrees for 3-4 hours. Enjoy the smell.

Remove the brisket from the oven and slice it (about 1/4'' thick.) Be careful when you unwrap the foil; extremely hot steam is going to come rushing out. Don't discard anything from the baking dish. Put the slices back into the dish and redistribute the sauce to make sure it gets in between all the slices and on top of all the potatoes. Wrap everything back up in heavy foil. Now, you can either freeze it if you're serving it several days later, refrigerate if you're serving it the next day, or put it right back in the oven if you're serving it the same day. When you put it back in the oven, either the same day or at a later date, you should cook it for at least 2-3 more hours. You'll know it's done when the meat is dark brown and so tender that you don't need a knife to cut it. Also, your house will smell unbearably delicious. If you live in an apartment building, your neighbors may show up at your door looking hungry.

This part is self-explanatory.

Brisket gets better the more you re-heat it. I absolutely hate leftovers. You will never find me eating cold pizza for breakfast or reheating last night's delicious meal that i just couldn't finish at the restaurant and really intended to have for lunch the next day. But brisket miraculously tastes amazing as leftovers. Don't get your heart set on it, though. You probably won't have leftovers.

An added bonus for hesitant cooks is that you really can't mess brisket up. The more you cook it, the better it gets, so you can't accidentally overcook it.

Happy Passover to those who celebrate it, and happy eating to everyone else!

I'm actually heading to NYC to celebrate Passover with my boyfriend's family this year, so I'm not making my own brisket, but here's an ugly snapshot from last year to give you a rough idea of what brisket looks like.
Last Year's Passover Brisket

It's kind of ugly, but don't let that discourage you. Some of the ugliest foods in the world are also the most delicious :)

*A Seder is a special dinner that occurs on the first and second nights of Passover. The Hagaddah, a special book that includes the Passover story, prayers, and songs, is used to retell the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Seders are an interesting mix of storytelling, drinking, singing, and eating. As this blog is supposed to be about food, I won't go into further detail, but if you'd like to learn more about Passover Seders, Wikipedia has a pretty informative page on them here.

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