Cooking without a Recipe: Brisket

Slices of brisket in a rich gravy

This past week marked the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Last year at this time, I wrote a post about enjoying Rosh Hashanah dinner with my friend and fellow blogger Vanessa AKA Chef Druck and I shared my recipe for sweet carrot tzimmes — the vegetables cut into rounds to resemble gold coins for a prosperous new year.

This year, I am happy to report that I once again enjoyed Rosh Hashanah dinner with Chef Druck and family. This year’s dinner was hosted by our mutual friend Rowena, who is one of the chic ladies behind the fashion and lifestyle blog She She Shoppers. There were four families all together and while it was a bit of a madhouse, it was wonderful to ring in the new year with these dear friends. The holiday was certainly bittersweet in light of the sadness of the past year. But these friends have comforted me in my grief and I feel lucky indeed to have them.

The night before Rosh Hashanah, my family had a special holiday dinner with just the four of us. As is traditional for holiday meals, I served brisket. In Jewish cooking, brisket can have a bad reputation. Everyone has a memory of being served a tough, greasy, inedible brisket by an aunt or grandmother at some holiday meal. My husband and I have one friend who shudders at the very mention of the word. But when prepared correctly, brisket can be flavorful and fork-tender. It is also an inexpensive cut of beef and one that is best when prepared in advance. These two factors make it a dish worth exploring for modern, busy families — maybe even ones who (gasp!) aren’t Jewish.

The key to cooking brisket is two-fold: first, cook the meat in liquid for a long time — a technique known as braising — and second, prepare it the day before you want to serve it. Brisket is a tough cut of meat — that’s why it is cheap which is why Jewish immigrants were able to afford it when they first came to this country. To make a tough cut of meat tender, braising is the right approach. Cooking the brisket the day before you plan to serve it allows you to cool and then reheat the sauce. When the sauce is cooled in the refrigerator, the fat congeals at the top, thereby allowing you to remove it and serve a flavorful, but not greasy sauce to accompany your meat. Also, brisket is much easier to slice when it is cold.

Round challah is traditional for Rosh Hashanah. This year, I learned to make a braided round challah!

This method will produce a tender, delicious brisket in a rich gravy that will give no one indigestion. This is truly a brisket to win over the brisket naysayers out there. It even worked on the friend who claimed to hate brisket. I call this brisket “cooking without a recipe” because the sauce recipe is not what is important here. Feel free to vary it according to your family’s tastes. What is important is the method: Long, slow braise in liquid the day before and reheating with the sauce prior to serving.

Braised Brisket with Gravy
Serves 6-8

Whole beef brisket (3-4 lbs.)
2 TB vegetable oil
1 large onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 TB ketchup
3 1/2 cups beef stock or broth
1 1/2 cups fruity red wine
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the oil in a large, deep, oven-safe Dutch oven that has a tight-fitting lid. Add the brisket and brown it on all sides — just a few minutes per side. Remove the meat and set it aside.

To the Dutch oven, add the onions and garlic. Stir, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-low heat until the onions are softened, about ten minutes. Add the ketchup, beef broth, and wine and stir to combine. Return the meat to the Dutch oven and cover.

Transfer to Dutch oven to the preheated oven. Cook the meat in the oven, turning it every hour or so, for two and a half to three hours. Refrigerate the meat and sauce separately.

Prior to serving, skim any congealed fat off the top of the sauce. Trim the fat off of the top of the brisket and slice it against the grain. Then, place the slices in a deep baking dish. Pour the de-fatted sauce over the meat, cover with foil and reheat in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Serve with buttered noodles or potato kugel.


  1. Alicia S says

    I’ve never had brisket but it sounds amazing. Just as soon as the weather cools off here (we can’t even think of turning on the oven from June to November due to the heat) I might just try this. Thanks for sharing the recipe and Happy New Year to you!

    • Emily says

      Thanks very much! Brisket is definitely not warm weather food. It’s heavy and sticks to your ribs. But sometimes, that’s just what you want. I hope you give it a try.