By Caroline Dipping
When it comes to Passover, soup with matzo balls is a must, but from there, the menu varies from family to family.
Passover commemorates the escape of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. It’s one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays, and one in which family meals take on great importance.
Often, a seasoned cook’s thoughts will turn to brisket as the centerpiece. It makes sense; briskets are economical, they feed a crowd and are a boon to the busy hostess during the eight-day holiday.
Best of all, briskets can be made ahead and refrigerated — sauce and all — for two to three days, then reheated in the microwave, oven or stovetop. This is particularly nice since Passover this year begins at sundown on Monday.
ONION-BRAISED BEEF BRISKET
1 beef brisket roast, 4 to 5 pounds, flat cut preferred
Salt and pepper to taste
3 large onions (about 2 1Ú2 pounds), halved and sliced
1 tablespoon light or dark brown sugar
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon paprika
1Ú8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons matzo meal or potato starch
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup kosher dry red wine
3 dried bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
Makes six servings
Adjust oven rack to lower middle position; heat oven to 300 degrees. Line 9-by-13-inch baking dish with two 24-inch-long sheets of 18-inch-wide heavy-duty foil, positioning sheets perpendicular to each other and allowing excess foil to extend beyond edges of pan. Pat brisket dry with paper towels. Place brisket, fat side up, on cutting board; using dinner fork, poke holes in meat through fat layer about 1-inch apart. Season both sides of brisket liberally with salt and pepper.
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until oil just begins to smoke. Place brisket fat side up in skillet; weigh brisket with heavy Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet and cook until well browned, about 7 minutes. Remove Dutch oven; using tongs, flip brisket and cook on second side without weight until well browned, about 7 minutes longer. Transfer brisket to platter.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from pan (or if brisket was lean, add enough oil to fat in skillet to equal 1 tablespoon); stir in onions, sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and golden, 10 to 12 minutes.
Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute; add tomato paste and cook, stirring to combine, until paste darkens, about 2 minutes. Add paprika and cayenne and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Sprinkle matzo meal or potato starch over onions and cook, stirring constantly, until well combined, about 2 minutes. Add broth, wine, bay leaves and thyme, stirring to scrape up browned bits from pan. Bring to simmer, and simmer about 5 minutes to fully thicken.
Pour sauce and onions into foil-lined baking dish. Nestle brisket, fat side up, in sauce and onions. Fold foil extensions over and seal (do not tightly crimp foil because foil must later be open to test for doneness). Place in oven and cook until fork can be inserted into and removed from center of brisket with no resistance, 3 1/2 to 4 hours (when testing for doneness, open foil with caution, as contents will be steaming). Carefully open foil and let brisket cool at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes.
Transfer brisket to large bowl; set mesh strainer over bowl, and strain sauce over brisket. Discard bay leaves and thyme from onions, and transfer onions to small bowl. Cover both bowls with plastic wrap, cut vents into plastic with paring knife, and refrigerate overnight.
About 45 minutes before serving, adjust oven rack to lower middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. While oven heats, transfer cold brisket to cutting board. Scrape off and discard any congealed fat from sauce, then transfer sauce to medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until warm, skimming any fat on surface with a wide shallow spoon (you should have about 2 cups sauce without onions; if necessary, simmer sauce over medium-high heat until reduced to 2 cups).
While sauce heats, use a carving knife to slice brisket against the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices, trimming and discarding any excess fat, if desired. Place slices in 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Stir reserved onions and vinegar into warm sauce and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over brisket slices, cover baking dish with foil, and bake until heated through, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
Caroline Dipping writes about food for The San Diego Union-Tribune.
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