Old World, New World Variations on Brisket

By Devra Ferst

Published April 07, 2009.
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There are few holiday foods that call up tradition and memories as much as brisket or brust, as I’m told my great-grandmother called it. There are endless variations of recipes — each one boasting local influences from sweet paprika to Coca-Cola to spicy Mexican chiles. This Passover season, we share with you a recipe from the Old World that made its way to both America and Sweden from Latvia, and one from the New World that provides a Mexican twist on the traditional dish.

The Old World Version (as my father, Walter Ferst, tells the story):

In 1972 I had just finished college, and was traveling from Israel to Europe. I stopped for a week in Sweden, where I met distant relatives. At the end of the week my cousin — my fourth cousin — took me to his mother’s home outside of Stockholm for dinner.

Before we even sat down at the table I recognized the meal. The smell was unmistakable. It was the same brisket recipe my grandmother, who had died eight years earlier, had prepared in her home outside of Philadelphia when I was a child — and the brisket that I make to this day.

The recipe had spanned the Atlantic and made its way from Latvia to the United States around the turn of the 20th century, and to Sweden (by way of Germany) in the 1930s.

Kauffman/Ferst Family Brisket:

1 whole brisket, not just the first cut
½ to 1 full head of garlic
3–4 medium sized sweet onions sliced in thick rings
4 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Hungarian or sweet paprika
Dry white wine

1) Trim some of the fat, but leave on a good deal of the fat.

2) Make small incisions in the brisket, and plug the entire piece with cloves of garlic.

3) Coat with salt, pepper and paprika on both sides.

4) Pin onion rings liberally to both sides of the meat with toothpicks if necessary.

5) Place in the center of a large roasting pan with remaining onions around.

6) Pour a mixture made up of two-thirds dry white wine and one-third water over the brisket, filling the dish an inch to an inch and a half full.

7) Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil and cook for three hours at 340 degrees.

8) Remove covering and continue to cook for approximately 45 minutes, basting with liquid every 10 minutes.

9) Let sit for at least 20 minutes before slicing. Serve au jus

And The New World Version:

If you’re looking for a new twist on a holiday favorite, the New York- and Las Vegas-based restaurant Dos Caminos, will serve a Mexican-style brisket this coming week in honor of the holiday. The recipe is hybrid of the traditional Mexican celebratory dish barbacoa (typically made with pork) and a traditional brisket recipe. Cooked in banana leaves and smothered with spicy chile — infused sauce it is has a south of the border aroma and a kick to its juicy bite.

Chile Rubbed Brisket (created by Ivry Stark, Executive Chef of Dos Caminos Park Avenue South in Manhattan)

1 piece (2 ½ to 3 lbs) center cut brisket, surface fat trimmed
6 ancho chiles, seeded and stemmed
4 chiles de arbol, seeded and stemmed
1 ½ cups dry red wine
¼ cup rice vinegar
6 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons canela (Mexican cinnamon)
2 large pieces banana leaves
4 medium onions, thinly sliced

1) Toast the chiles lightly in a dry sauté pan, until they just begin to lighten in color. Remove to a pot about 1 quart of water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let chiles stand in hot water until sot, about 15 minutes.

2) Remove the chiles from the water and puree in a blender with the wine, vinegar, garlic, cumin, oregano and canela until smooth.

3) Season meat on both sides with salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan that has been lines with a banana leaf and cover with chile mixture and onions. Cover meat with another banana leaf.

4) Seal pan tightly with aluminum foil and cover. Roast at 350 for about for hours until brisket is very tender.

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