Today’s brisket recipes don’t look much like those from the 1900s. Looking back at Jewish Pittsburgh’s contributions, one thing is clear: brisket was pretty dull and most likely didn’t get the kind of rave reviews that you read online while paging through today’s brisket recipes.
Working on this Rosh Hashana Chronicle Cooks, I can’t get brisket out of my mind. I’ve looked at who knows how many recipes and can honestly say I don’t have a personal favorite. Just don’t make me eat one of the “historical” briskets.
Joan Nathan, in her 2005 “The New American Cooking,” sums it up: “Brisket is the Zelig of the kitchen — it takes on the character of whoever cooks it.” That said, it’s not for lack of character that brisket, compared to how many of us prepare it today, seems dull. Transportation can put us anywhere across the country in a day, so anything you can dream of to cook your brisket with, you can probably get fairly easily and not have to rely solely on local seasonal produce.
Digging into the archives of The Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, which is composed of The Jewish Criterion (1895-1962), The American Jewish Outlook (1934-1962) and The Jewish Chronicle (1962-present), I pulled out a few recipes leading up to brisket recipes today.
From the Jewish Criterion, September 26, 1930, in the Suggestions for the Housewife column; no byline is included
Pot Roast – Braised Beef
Heat some chicken or goose fat in a deep iron pot, cut half an onion very fine and when it is slightly browned put in the meat. Cover up closely and let the meat brown on all sides. Salt to taste, add a scant half-teaspoon of paprika, half a cup of water and simmer an hour longer, keeping covered closely all the time. Add one-half a sweet green pepper (seeds removed), one small carrot cut in slices, two tablespoons of tomatoes and two onions sliced. Two and a half pounds of brisket or any other meat suitable for pot-roasting will require three hours slow cooking. Shoulder of lamb may also be cooked in this style. When the meat is tender, remove to warm platter, strain the gravy, rubbing the thick part through the sieve and after removing any fat serve in a sauceboat.
From the Jewish Criterion October 18, 1940. The Suggestions for the Housewife column still exists, now by Mildred Grosberg Bellin. This recipe at least is a little more interesting.
Roast Brisket of Beef
Buy 4 pounds of double, boneless brisket. Sprinkle it on all sides with a mixture of 1 teaspoon salt, ½ of pepper and ½ teaspoon of ginger. Place in a heavy roasting pan that has a tight fitting cover. An iron pot is best. Add 1 carrot, peeled and diced, 1 green pepper, free from seeds and cut in strips, 2 onions cut in quarters, ½ cup of diced celery, 1 small clove of garlic, 1 cup canned tomatoes, 2 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of paprika. Cover tightly and place in a moderate oven, 350 degrees for about 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Strain the gravy, and serve it with baked potatoes.
From The Jewish Chronicle 1963. Bellin is still writing, but now the column is What Morsels These Foods Be, as JTA food editor, for The Jewish Chronicle. It is also the first brisket I could find in the new Jewish newspaper. Bellin gives two recipes: Essie Fleish-boiled and Essie Fleish-Braised. I’ll stick with the braised. According to Bellin, “Essie is a form of sweet-and-sour meat with the sweet provided by honey and the sour, as the name implies, by vinegar. It was developed in a past era, when flavor and succulence were the prime aims, and no one had heard of calories.”
2 pounds breast of beef (brust)
2 tablesoons chicken fat
2 onions, peeled and diced
1 green pepper, diced (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1/16 teaspoon pepper
1 cup water
½ cup honey
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup seedless raisins
¼ cup white vinegar
Select a piece of single brisket and have all the excess fat removed before weighing. Melt the chicken fat in a heavy 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, add the meat, onions, and green pepper, and brown lightly. Add the salt, pepper, and water, bring to a boil, cover, then simmer until the meat is almost tender, about 1 ½ hours. Remove the meat from the pan and slice. Add the remaining ingredients to the gravy and stir until the sugar is melted. Return the meat to the pan, and continue to simmer, covered, until the meat is very tender. Taste the gravy, and add more seasonings, if desired. Serve the meat with some of the gravy on a deep platter.
In the September 18, 1964, Chronicle, the brisket recipe for Succot used onion soup mix. On October 13, 1967, the Chronicle had a recipe for roast brisket with msg added.
By 1985, the only suggestion for housewives was make it easy, I work now (That wasn’t really in the Chronicle. I made that up.) For this recipe, there wasn’t even time to write a byline.
Roast in Beer
5 pounds brisket
1½ cups ketchup
1½ cups beer
2 medium onions, sliced
16 small potatoes
Place brisket on a rack in roasting pan. Roast for one-and-one half hours at 350 degrees. Mix ketchup, beer and onions. Pour over roast. Place potatoes in pan. Baste meat about every ½ hour. Bake another 1 ½ hours or until tender. Serves eight.
When I asked Nathan for trends today, she said cooks are using pomegranate juice, molasses, dried fruits, especially around Rosh Hashana. Also, more briskets are being cooked Mediterranean style and savory.