I was driving us home Friday evening after we arrived home in LA after 20 hours of travel when I heard something on KCRW about Rosh Hashanah. “Oh shit!” I said, “It’s Rosh Hashanah tomorrow!”
“What’s that?” Felix could have been referring to Rosh Hashanah or to the car in front of us. We were tired.
“It’s the Jewish New Year!”
He was relieved or unconcerned, or both.
I managed to sleep a solid 11 hours Friday night and woke up at 6:30 in the morning. I was at Whole Foods by 7am getting milk for coffee and a couple of urgent basic staples to fill an empty fridge. Due to jet lag and general Whole Foods seduction, that included a bottle of dry Vermouth and a “new” ancient alcoholic beverage made from some sort of root and cloves, and three packages of gartisnal oat cheese and some hand-pulled mozzarella. I also bought my Rosh Hashanah brisket, well sign-posted in the meat section for the holiday.
About 4:30 or 5 that day, crumbling like a toddler who’d missed her nap, I asked Felix f we should really eat the brisket that had been cooking for 7+ hours or if we shouldn’t maybe go out for Mexican. I had just learned that Rosh Hashanah was not in fact that day but would start the following day. I was distraught. Felix was again unconcerned.
“We could have the brisket,” I said, “but it needs more time. I need more time. There’s stuff I need to figure out.”
“We’ve been eating out for two weeks.” It’s been more than that, really – I don’t think I’ve cooked since wedding week, a month ago.
“But Rosh Hashanah isn’t until tomorrow.” I was seriously distraught.
“We aren’t Jewish.”
Point taken. While I’d shared many a Rosh Hashanah with friends over the years, leaving me with many good memories and a fondness for the holiday, Felix – meh, not so much.
But I still wasn’t up to finishing the brisket in any meaningful way and I realllly wanted to eat it on Rosh Hashanah, because it would have just been weird otherwise. So, I defrosted a quart bag of this chili from the freezer, which was truly delicious and ready in ten minutes.
Sunday I was able to finish the brisket with the attention it deserved. I was still pretty disastrous – I’d been up since 3 that morning, when my body declared it was done sleeping. That being said, it was quite tasty and if I could do it in the state I was in this weekend, you can do it – make this tangy, tender brisket, maybe next Rosh Hashanah – but double check the date.
Please note that this brisket is inspired by my friend Nicole’s mom’s brisket, but I’ve made a bunch of tweaks and additions. As such, and given that we are not actually Jewish, I have no idea if it’s still fit for the holiday table, for if you're just paying homage to the Jewish New Year, it'll do nicely.
Wicked Delicious Brisket
4 large onions, sliced
6 cloves garlic, whole
20 sprigs of thyme
10 sprigs of marjoram
3 lb brisket, fat layer trimmed (but not obsessively so)
3 tsp salt, divided
2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
6 oz tomato paste
4 oz dry vermouth
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp (heaping) Dijon mustard
2 tsp cider vinegar
½ tsp Worcester sauce
Layer 2/3 of onions, all garlic, and ¾ herbs (give or take) in the bottom of a 7 or 5 quart slow cooker. (See oven instructions below*)
Using half of salt and all of the pepper, season the brisket and lay it on top of your pile of onions and herbs.
Combine remaining six ingredients and remaining salt in a small bowl – I used my 4-cup measuring cup. The tomato paste won’t want to combine with the vermouth, but with a little whisking, it will do what it is told. Pour the sauce on top of the brisket, making sure to cover the meat.
Top with remaining onions and herbs.
Set your slow cooker for 2 ½ hours on high followed by 5 hours on low.
Ideally, you’ll have two days to do this – the flavor and tenderness really will be the better for it. At this point, you’ll transfer the whole mess to a baking dish, let it cool a bit, and move it to the fridge overnight.
Remove the chilled brisket and onion goo from the fridge about 2 hours before you’re ready to eat, so that you can make the sauce and have it re-heated in time for dinner, including buffer time for getting your sauce tasting just right.
Separate the meat from the goo. Slice the meat in ¼ inch slices, wrap it in foil and return it to the fridge while you work on your sauce.
Pull out all of the herb stems and then run all of the tomato/onion mixture and juices through either a food mill or a food processor. If you use a food mill, which I did, you’ll lose some solids and may want to return the sauce to a small saucepan and reduce it a bit more, to thicken the sauce and concentrate the favors. If you use a food processor, your sauce will have a bit more body because you’ll have retained all of the solids. Either way, put your blended sauce in a pot and heat it up so that you can tweak the salt and pepper and make any other modifications you feel it needs (too sweet? Add a little more vinegar and/or mustard. Too tangy? Add a touch more cinnamon, etc.)
When you’re ready to reheat your brisket, you’ll pop the sliced meat in a baking dish and pour the sauce all over it, making sure to work it in between the slices. If your sauce is already warm or hot, it won’t take that long to get this heated through and bubbling.
Preheat your oven to 325 F and bake, covered with foil, 25 – 35 minutes, until bubbling and well-heated though.
Alternate Oven Directions
The first time I made a similar recipe (using chuck instead of brisket, but otherwise the same) I did it in the oven. It was before I had the world’s most amazing slow cooker – but it worked absolutely fine, if it was maybe slightly more demanding of my attention.
Preheat oven to 350.
Make sauce as directed and pour 1/3 in to the bottom of a 7 or 5 quart heavy pot with a tight fitting lid. Layer onion, garlic and herbs with meat as directed, topping the beef with the remaining sauce, instead of the full recipe of sauce.
Bake at 350 F for one hour. Give the onions a stir, topping the beef again with some onions and juices. Reduce heat to 275 F and bake for 3- 3/12 more hours. Brisket should be easily pierce-able with a fork – if not, continue baking at 275 and check every 30 minutes until it is. When it’s fork-tender, proceed with chilling, sauce-making and finishing as directed above.
I see no reason why you couldn’t do the first stage of the process two days in advance, making this a great make-ahead dinner party main dish.
I served this with a fingerling potato, grilled artichoke heart, and arugula salad with Dijon mustard vinaigrette, which made a great pairing for an everyday meal.