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Shabbat Meals: Tracey Zabar’s Brisket

I spent the first two years of my marriage begging everyone who came to my wedding for recipes. It’s how I taught myself to cook. Imagining that we had to eat something different every week, my repertoire grew quickly. My husband fondly remembers disasters like Chicken Chips (totally burnt cutlets), Banana Goo (cake under-baked and inedible), and Horrible Ugly Mess (a most delicious meatloaf that just looks horrid). But what he really wanted was brisket.

I had a very tenuous relationship with brisket. While I didn’t mind eating it once in a while, I had no idea how to make it. It may have had something to do with my mother’s incredibly frightening pressure cooker. She would drag it out once a month or so and drop some veggies, a giant hunk of meat, and who knows what else in the pot, secure the cover, put the stove on, and walk away. Sometimes, in the next few hours, tender, juicy meat with yummy gravy and vegetables would appear. Other times the damn thing would explode and leave a huge mess all over the kitchen. After getting over the shock of the noise, the dogs would go crazy trying to eat as much meat as possible before my mother ran into the kitchen and burst into tears. I learned that the pressure cooker (just like the bathroom scale) makes you cry. My brothers and I also learned that when you see a package of brisket on the counter, get out of the house.

The whole traumatic thing was a shame because that stupid brisket made my father so happy. He always murmured something about gedempte fleysh, which maybe means really overcooked meat. Usually he spoke Yiddish when one of us was on the roof or broke a window. But this dish really turned him into a sentimental child, because it was the exact recipe from his mother, my grandmother Rebecca. Boy, did I learn a lesson there about the power of a well-loved childhood recipe.

But sadly, I didn’t have the recipe. (I do have Grandma’s challah recipe, with directions that describe, “glass raisin” and so on. Perhaps this “glass” is a teacup? Or a recycled yarhzeit candleholder? Who knows.)

I now make two briskets. One with veggies and Coca-cola, garlic, onion soup mix, chili sauce, prunes, and red peppers, borrowing recipe ingredients from two of my culinary heroines: my mother-in-law, Judy Zabar, and Joan Nathan.

Every Friday morning after nursery school drop-off, I used to run to the beloved and much-missed French butchers on the Upper West Side. Every time, twenty minutes after opening, they were already out of their legendary, you-couldn’t-order-it-ahead-always-sold-out, brisket. And you couldn’t go there before nursery school because they weren’t opened yet. I finally got up the courage to ask about it, and they kindly shared the recipe. This second brisket has evolved over the years (I use tomato sauce instead of ketchup, and I use a lot less wine than the original recipe). Here it is:

Tracey Zabar’s Brisket

6 carrots, cleaned and cut into thirds 3 stalks of celery, cleaned and cut into thirds 1 large onion, diced 3 pound brisket 1 cup orange juice 1 cup applesauce ½ cup red wine 1 cup Rao’s tomato sauce

1) Preheat the oven to 350°.

2) In a large, deep pot, place the carrots, celery, and onion. Place the brisket over the vegetables. Pour the orange juice, applesauce, wine, and tomato sauce over the top.

3) Bake, covered for 1 ½ hours. Turn the brisket over, and bake, covered for another 1 ½ hours.

4) Remove from the oven and cool. Remove the brisket from the pot, slice across the grain, and return to the pot.

5) Refrigerate overnight (everyone says it tastes better the next day) and reheat before serving.

Tracey Zabar is a baker, jewelry designer, and the author of four books, including “One Sweet Cookie” and “Charmed Bracelets.” She lives in Manhattan with her husband, (yes, from Zabar’s), and four sons.


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