Brisket and Tsimmis

As Anthony Bourdain said “Only Texans and Jews understand brisket.”

If you want something smoky and savory,head to Texas  Get a side of mac and cheese and really enjoy some down home BBQ. However, if you want something a little saucier, a little softer, and a little sweeter, look to your Jewish friends. Think fall-apart-in-your-mouth beef swimming in a sweet and savory sauce with tender root vegetables.  We don’t tamper with this recipe and we don’t ignore it.

We make it every Hanukkah and eat it with gusto.

My guess is, once you have this incredibly simple recipe, you will, too.

Brisket and Tsimmis

Ingredients:

7 lbs. brisket (with the point and fat cap)

6 onions, sliced into rings

1 lb. carrots, cleaned and sliced into large chunks

1 lb. parsnips, cleaned and sliced into large chunks

1 large can tomato sauce

1 can beer

2 cups prune juice

1 cup pitted prunes

1/2 cup brown sugar

1. Cut the beef into pieces, if necessary, then place it fat side down in a BURNING HOT stockpot. You will hear it sizzle and sear. Let it rest for about 2 minutes, or until it becomes easily unstuck…

then sear it on the other side. Repeat with other pieces.

The meat is seared to lock in the juices for the long braise ahead.

2. After you are done browning the meat, you turn the oven to 350F, and…

add the carrots, onions, and turnips to the pot.

3. Now, mix all of the other ingredients together in a bowl, and…

add the sauce to the pot. Give it a good stir to try to get the sauce down around that beef.

4. Turn off the stove and cover the pot with tinfoil, crimping down the edges tightly  You want absolutely no steam to escape here. The whole point is that this is covered for hours and hours, braising and breaking down fat and connective tissues until the beef is soft enough to cut with a spoon. You can always cover the pot with a lid after the foil, but don’t skip the foil.

5. Now, set it in the oven for a good 6 – 8 hours. It is done when the meat is truly, totally tender.

Try not to eat it straight out of the pot with a serving spoon. I, of course, fail at this every year. The carrots are tender, the prunes are fat and juicy…

and the beef is bovine perfection. Skim the fat off the top and serve it now, or…

6. Separate the beef from the sauce and refrigerate both over night. When it comes time to serve it, simply remove the fat off the top of the Tupperware.

It should have risen to the top in one orange clump, which you can simply pick off. So much easier than separating it while it is hot!

Now you are left with just the tsimis.

7. Now, slice the fat cap off the brisket and toss it,

slice the brisket, and put it in the tsimis. Reheat the whole thing on the stove, in the oven, or even in the microwave until it is hot, and…

8. Serve.

This is beef stew gone sweet. It is sweet potato pie gone savory. It is slightly malty form the beer and very earthy from the parsnips and sweet carrots. The onions simply swoon in submission to the tomatoey, beefy sauce, and the prunes pick up the irony, hearty taste of the beef. The beef itself is really soft and mild without being mushy or cottony – that’s what sealing that thick fat cap does. It protects the meat from losing flavor or texture. We eat this for breakfast lunch, and dinner the week after we make it – it actually gets better as it sits.

Not that something this delicious sits around for long.

Uncle Jack’s is More than Just a Steakhouse

Midtown West below 42nd street can be a little dicey. There are a lot of bodegas, a few apartment buildings, and – out of nowhere – a grandiose steakhouse out of another era.

Uncle Jack’s is a real meat emporium, It is big, it is dark, and it has fancy steak knives on the table. This is a place that you come to announce your promotion to your parents or have dinner with your boss. It’s a serious, traditional restaurant.

But it doesn’t have to be all about the meat – which some of us can’t eat at lunch if they want to avoid an afternoon nap.

Wedge Salad

Nothing new here, nothing you can’t get somewhere else…but this is done superbly. A huge portion of icy cold lettuce, crisp and fresh. Thickly crumbled bacon, smoky and salty, gives way to pungent shreds of red onion and juicy beefsteak tomatoes, spilling their acidic seeds. The dressing, creamy and clean tasting, comes with creamy clumps of Stilton cheese. It is sharp, funky, and adds a certain heft to the salad. Like I said, this isn’t new, but it is perfect.

Mahi Mahi with lemon beurre blanc and sautéed spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes

Fish in a steak restaurant?! Really? Who does that? If you are smart and dining at this restaurant, you will. This mahi mahi is delicious. It is soft but not mushy, flaky but still moist, and has charred parts where it touched the grill. The beurre blanc balances richness and acidity well, and the vegetables are especially notable. The spinach is so minerally and meaty, the tomatoes are so sweet and juicy, and the mushrooms are so umami and garlicky that they are worth ordering on their own.  They work well with the salinity of the fish and bring another dimension to the dish.

Uncle Jacks’ probably has great steaks. They certainly looked and smelled delicious, arriving at tables all around us. But they also have other wonderful lunch entrees that are a little lighter but just as tasty. The restaurant isn’t cheap and the service is a little stiff and brusque, but the food is really well done. Come here when you have a bachelor party or an office affair, and everyone will be satisfied, –  and carnivores alike.

Chipotle-Plum Brisket

It’s no secret that I love brisket. After all, I’m Jewish – if you are a Jew who doesn’t like brisket, you better be prepared for a lot of shame and guilt.

You know, more than the normal kind.

A classic Jewish recipe for brisket involves tsimmis – cooking it low and slow for hours with prunes, carrots, onions, and potatoes until it falls apart in tender shreds, ready to be eaten with a spoon. Though I love that sweet and sour sauce, it lacks heat and depth for me. That is where this brisket idea came from – part Jewish, part Mexican, and entirely delicious. As a bonus, it can be made in advance and served room temperature. All you need is time, a food processor, and an appetite.

Chiptole-Plum Brisket

Ingredients:

7 lbs. brisket (with fat cap attached)

7 oz. chipotle Tabasco sauce

2 cups prunes

1 bottle dark beer

3/4 cup water

5 oz. tomato paste

4 Tbps. of salt, or to taste

1. Add 5 oz. of Tabasco sauce to the prunes in your food processor and take the brisket out to get it to room temperature.

2. Pulse until the prunes form a thick paste. Also, preheat your oven to 250F.

3. Add the beer and stir to liquefy a bit. Add the salt here, too.

4. Place the brisket in the roasting pan, fat side up, and spread the marinade all over and under the brisket. You want it covering every surface of the meat. 

5. Now, add the water, and 

put it in the oven, tightly covered, for about 45 minutes per pound. 

6. When the brisket comes out of the oven, let it rest for an hour uncovered. Meanwhile, take the roasting pan juices…

and put them in a stockpot. 

7. Add the tomato paste and the rest of the tabasco sauce, and allow the mixture to boil for about half an hour, or until it becomes thick and syrupy, like BBQ sauce.

8. Taste it and add more chipotle Tabasco if it needs more heat (be careful – the heat will intensify as it sits, so if you aren’t serving this right away, wait until serving to season it).

9. When the brisket has cooled enough to handle, slice it against the grain into thin strips. Cut off the fat cap if people you are serving don’t like it (I love it!)

Be sure to save all of that sweet and smoky marinade to top off the slices!

10. Pour off the gravy onto the brisket, then put it in the fridge to store or serve it immediately. To reheat before serving, simply place it in a 300F, covered with tinfoil, oven for 1 hour. 

This brisket is so much more than tasty. It is meat at its most primal – deep, zesty, a little sweet, and incredibly savory. It carries the smoky taste of the Chipotle Tabasco with the sweet and sour flavors of tsimmis. The reduced cooking liquid means that the brisket is fork tender without falling apart, and the fat cap melts as it cooks, enriching the meat. The spice becomes intense as it sits, but doesn’t turn hot or burning. This is something that even a spice wimp could handle. With some of that thick BBQ sauce ladled over it and some grilled onions, this is a hearty and satisfying sandwich that is as delicious the night you make it as it is cold for breakfast the next day. Try it with potato salad or some Mexican influenced slaw.

Is it any wonder that I love brisket?

*Disclaimer: I was compensated for this recipe by Tabasco*

Asian Steak Sandwiches

If you have ever had to convert something from the metric system to the  standard (American) system of measurements, you probably say that you hate conversions.

Allow me to change your mind a bit.

Though simply prepared steak is often the best kind, there is always room for variation. This doesn’t require a whole new recipe, it just requires a little conversion. For example:

Ketchup = chipotles in adobo + sugar = red wine

Worcestershire sauce = tamarind  = sautéed, melted anchovies

Steak seasoning blend = adobo sauce = thyme and rosemary

And right there, you have converted American to Mexican to French – all steak recipes, all delicious. Of course, my favorite way to alter my favorite steak recipe leans a bit more to the far east.

Asian Steak  Sandwiches

Ingredients:

1.5 lbs. flank or skirt steak

1/2 cup sweet Thai chili sauce

4 Tbs. tamari or soy sauce

2 tsp. fish sauce

1 handful cilantro, cleaned

1 clove garlic, smashed but not minced

1 bulb ginger, sliced lengthwise so its innards are exposed

sandwich fixins (toast, Sriracha, mayonnaise, Asian slaw, etc).

1. Put the Thai chili sauce, fish sauce, tamari, garlic, and ginger in a zip top bag.

2. Add the cilantro. 

3. Add the meat to the bag, squish it with your hands to ensure that the marinade gets all around the meat. then put the steak in the fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. 

4. After the steak has marinated, let it come to room temperature (VERY important step). Put the broiler on high and broil the steak for 3.5 minutes per side for medium rare steak.

5. When the steak is done to your liking (don’t forget, it will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven), take it out and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. RESIST cutting into it, or the juices will run all over your cutting board instead of redistributing throughout the meat.

6. Slice and enjoy! This steak is far less sweet and sticky than the kind I normally enjoy. It’s quite fragrant with cilantro, with only a touch of sweetness from the chili sauce. The funk of the fish sauce becomes quite savory, with the spice of the ginger and the kick from the fresh garlic. The real coup here is how the marinade accents the flavor of the meat. It isn’t overly Asian – it would not be out of place with a baked potato in a steakhouse – but the balance of sweet, salty, sour, and heat could only speak to the Asian tenets of flavor. This would be fantastic over hot rice or in an Asian salad, but it also makes a heck of a fusion sandwich. 

All you need to do is:

Spread some Sriracha mixed with mayonnaise on two pieces of toast (preferably baguette or white bread, but anything will work).

Layer the room temperature steak on one side and some fresh or pickled vegetables on the other side.

And enjoy. All the wonders of a steak sandwich mixed with the best part of Asian cuisine.

And you thought you hated conversions…

Two Simple Sandwiches

I don’t always make intricate, complicated dishes. I don’t always eat fabulous tasting menus. Most of the time, I eat convenient foods – a fast soup, a simple salad. And I am a huge fan of sandwiches. The best part about a sandwich is that it is whatever you want it to be. Sometimes I feel like a vegetable sandwich with:
 Very fresh sourdough baguette (if it’s stale, the sandwich won’t have the proper texture),
 doused in red wine vinegar. Must be red wine, must be DOUSED – until the inside turns to mush and starts to peek through the hard crust. 
 Then, I like to put on some freshly sliced tomatoes
 buttery avocado (or leftover guacamole),
 shredded iceberg lettuce
 thinly sliced red onions
 and stuffed olives. Treat yourself to the best olives you can find – these were stuffed with buffalo sharp cheddar.
 Top it with lashings of hot sauce (this one is new to me and embarrassingly addictive), and…
 dig in. This isn’t a heavy sandwich, but it is immensely fulfilling. Different flavors and textures – sweet tomato, briny olives, fiery hot sauce, and that bread. That is the key-the vinegar soaked bread. Baguette is the perfect choice here because it gets soft but does not deteriorate. This sandwich feels indulgent but is really incredibly virtuous – there isn’t even any mayo or cheese on it. I don’t’ crave anything else with it as a side.
Of course…
 there are other days. Days where I need a little something guiltier. Something meatier. On those days…
 I slice chive-scented Cotswold cheese (though gorgonzola dolce is lovely, too),
 and quickly cook a flank steak to just past blue-rare. I let it come to room temperature, then slice it thinly. 
 Then, I pile the steak atop a mayonnaise-smeared piece of ciabatta bread – floury, airy, with a thick and sturdy crust. I top it with fried onions (and mushrooms, if I have any in the house),
 and a bit of Peter Luger Steak Sauce (the best I have every tried).
 I add some hot pickled peppers, shredded iceberg lettuce (going through a big iceberg phase, oh yes I am), and the cheese.
 This is indulgent. It has bloody meat, spicy peppers, creamy mayo and salty shards of cheese. It is filling and you need to take a nap after you eat it. It wants for nothing more than a few salt and vinegar chips and a root beer. I don’t eat this sandwich as much as I wish I could. 
And sometimes simple meals at home really are the best. 

Flank Steak vs. Skirt Steak – The Beefy Duel

You are probably a schmuck. Admit it. You don’t know enough about steaks. I will start – I know bupkis about the stuff! I know that filet mignon is tender, prime rib is fatty and…um…I like it very rare. That’s it. Until recently, I thought that flank steak and skirt steak were the same thing. Clearly, I was a moron. 
On the left side, you have skirt steak. It comes from the diaphragm of the cow and is best served quite rare, because it gets tough very quickly if cooked too long. It is pretty lean, so there isn’t a lot of fat to keep it from getting all fibrous and chewy as the heat blasts it. It is also called hanger steak, and if you order steak frites in France, this is likely the cut of steak you will get.
On the right side is flank steak – if it was thicker, it would be called London Broil. It has even less fat than skirt steak, and is consequently a little more tender. The less fatty the meat, the more tender. That’s why you need different types of steaks…sometimes you want fatty flavor, sometimes you want buttery texture. 
It’s all a trade off, folks.
I tossed both of the steaks in a Ziploc bag filled with a marinade that was made of:
2 parts Worcestershire sauce
1 part ketchup
Healthy pinch of brown sugar. 
This is my standard “American” marinated that I do for these thinner, cheaper cuts of steak. While strip or Spencer steak might not need marinades, a little salt and sugar go a long way in bringing out the deep, meaty flavors of thin cuts of these thin cuts of beef.
After the steaks marinated for about 35 minutes in the fridge, I took them out and let them come to room temperature. This is a VERY important step. If you cook steak that is cold from the fridge, the outside of the steak will burn while the inside will stay cold and raw. I like raw but not cold…cold is just rude. 
After about 3 minutes per side, the skirt steak was ready to come out. You know when it is done when the steak is a bit resistant to your touch, but not bouncy…you do NOT want bouncy meat.
We let it rest for a few minutes so the juices would redistribute, but we probably should have left it for a bit longer…the juices sadly ran all over the plate. Don’t worry, I sopped them up with some bread. 
And after 4 minutes a side, the flank steak was good to go. 
I sliced both steaks against the grain. That means that if the lines in the steak were running right to left, you want to cut up and down. That ensures a tender piece of beef. 
On the left side you have flank steak, on the right side, skirt. They were both slightly overcooked – I adjusted the cooking times for you already. 
I preferred the flank steak – it was easier to cook rare and had a very hearty, vibrant, beefy taste. I loved it as was, and it would be great next to some polenta. The skirt steak had more nuanced flavors and textures, with the fat caramelizing and adding crispy edges and a slightly sweet taste to the meat. This would be so delicious in tacos or on a sandwich with melted blue cheese and sauteed onions. The anchovy-garlicky taste of the Worcestershire sauce melded with the sweetness of the ketchup and the sugar, letting the true tastes of both meat stand out. 
The truth is…as much as I crave fat, I just love the taste of BEEF. Here, flank steak wins the day.
So, now I know not just that I LIKE steak, but what KIND of steak I like. I feel far superior to most other schmucks out there now. 
And once you know what kind of steak you like, so will you!

Flank Steak vs. Skirt Steak: The Beefy Duel

You are probably a schmuck. Admit it. You don’t know enough about steaks. I will start – I know bupkis about the stuff! I know that filet mignon is tender, prime rib is fatty and…um…I like it very rare. That’s it. Until recently, I thought that flank steak and skirt steak were the same thing. Clearly, I was a moron.

On the left side, you have skirt steak. It comes from the diaphragm of the cow and is best served quite rare, because it gets tough very quickly if cooked too long. Once you trim it, there is still some fat, but not enough to keep it from getting all fibrous and chewy as the heat blasts it. It is also called hanger steak, and if you order steak frites in France, this is likely the cut of steak you will get.

On the right side is flank steak – if it was thicker, it would be called London Broil. It has even less fat than skirt steak, and is consequently a little more tender. The less fatty the meat, the more tender. That’s why you need different types of steaks…sometimes you want fatty flavor, sometimes you want buttery texture.

It’s all a trade off, folks.

I tossed both of the steaks in a Ziploc bag filled with a marinade that was made of:

2 parts Worcestershire sauce

1 part ketchup

Healthy pinch of brown sugar.

This is my standard “American” marinated that I do for these thinner, cheaper cuts of steak. While strip or Spencer steak might not need marinades, a little salt and sugar go a long way in bringing out the deep, meaty flavors of thin cuts of these thin cuts of beef.

After the steaks marinated for about 35 minutes in the fridge, I took them out and let them come to room temperature. This is a VERY important step. If you cook steak that is cold from the fridge, the outside of the steak will burn while the inside will stay cold and raw. I like raw but not cold…cold is just rude.

After about 3 minutes per side, the skirt steak was ready to come out. You know when it is done when the steak is a bit resistant to your touch, but not bouncy…you do NOT want bouncy meat.

We let it rest for a few minutes so the juices would redistribute, but we probably should have left it for a bit longer…the juices sadly ran all over the plate. Don’t worry, I sopped them up with some bread.

And after 4 minutes a side, the flank steak was good to go.

I sliced both steaks against the grain. That means that if the lines in the steak were running right to left, you want to cut up and down. That ensures a tender piece of beef.

On the left side you have flank steak, on the right side, skirt. They were both slightly overcooked – I adjusted the cooking times for you already.

I preferred the flank steak – it was easier to cook rare and had a very hearty, vibrant, beefy taste. I loved it as was, and it would be great next to some polenta. The skirt steak had more nuanced flavors and textures, with the fat caramelizing and adding crispy edges and a slightly sweet taste to the meat. This would be so delicious in tacos or on a sandwich with melted blue cheese and sauteed onions. The anchovy-garlicky taste of the Worcestershire sauce melded with the sweetness of the ketchup and the sugar, letting the true tastes of both meat stand out.

The truth is…as much as I crave fat, I just love the taste of BEEF. Here, flank steak wins the day.

So, now I know not just that I LIKE steak, but what KIND of steak I like. I feel far superior to most other schmucks out there now.

And once you know what kind of steak you like, so will you!

Beef Stew and Truffle Polenta, Mountain-Man Style

I have never been accused of being a “dainty” girl. Fun? Yes. Smart? Sure. But dainty? Never. Somewhere  between my lack of hand-eye coordination and my incredible ability to burp on cue, I have just never been called dainty.
And oh yeah…I like meat. And cream. And thick, hearty stews.
Real moutain-man type food.
Make this for your inner mountain-man. I promise he will be thrilled.

 A couple of pounds of high quality meat – we used stew beef, because you really want those fatty cuts that will break down during the cooking process and become velvety and tender.

Rinse and dry each piece of meat, then toss it in a bowl of salt and peppered flour. Shake off each piece and…
Toss them into a large olive-oiled stockpot on medium high! You want to get a nice brown sear on all sides to lock in the juices during the long cooking process. Be careful that the pieces of meat are not uber-crowded, or else the meat will steam not sear.
Guh-ross. We don’t want a meat sauna there.
Once they are nice and seared on all sides-maybe just a minute a side or so-you can start to prep the vegetables.

Peel and slice carrots into medium sized pieces – don’t slice them too small, or they will dissolve in there!

 And dice the celery into small pieces because that does not get mushy like carrots do, no matter now long it cooks. It will get tender, but it won’t dissolve into nothingness in your mouth like mushy carrots.

Toss the veggies in the pot!

 Now time to add 2 boxes of stock(any kind you like, but we used beef), 1 disc of demiglace and about 2 cups of red wine.

Then tie up a bundle of herbs with a piece of thread and toss it in. This way, you don’t even have to chop any herbs. What is edible will fall off and dissolve into the stew, and the woody stems and herbs will remain whole and just be fished out at the end. I used rosemary, thyme, sage and a couple of bay leaves
Threw some whole peeled garlic cloves in there too.
Then we preheated the oven to 250, foiled the top of the pot…

AND put the lid on. Ain’t no way there was steam escaping this! The whole point is to let the steam that acquires during the beef’s cooking come up to the top and then have no choice but to return back to the stew and make the beef incredibly moist and juicy.
We have our ways of making our proteins cooperate, here at Fritos and Foie Gras.
Now leave that in the stove, UNTOUCHED for 2 hours. It’s hard, I know. Mommy loves you, you will be fine.
You may have noticed that onions were conspicuously absent. That’s because, like the carrots, we wanted the onions to stay relatively whole. But unlike carrots, onions are incredibly fast cooking. Also, we wanted to use small, sweet pearl onions here. You know…those ones that take FOREVER to peel. Those ones that really aren’t even WORTH it because they are so miserable to peel. So, what’s a gal to do?
1)Boil pearl onions (at least 1 bag) for about 5 minutes, or until knife tender.
2)Take off the MEREST TIP of the root end – just want to take the roots off, still want the onion all attached so it doesn’t come apart.
3)Pinch the onion at the top and the onions should pop right out of the skins. Leave them as is for now. You might want to try just one. But try not to eat them ALL if you can help it…they are so sweet and have the most delightful velvety-firm texture that it is hard not to instantly devour them all. 
You could serve mashed potatoes with this, or wide egg noodles, or even just a hunk of crusty sourdough bread.
But what the hell…how about polenta? In case you havent’ had it, polenta is just cornmeal, so it is like slightly finer milled grits or slightly more textural masa. Every culture loves a good cornmeal dish! There is slow cooking and fast cooking polenta. The fast cooking kind is pretty damn delicious, but since we had to wait those 2 hours for the stew anyway…what the heck? Slow cooking it was!
Lots of different kinds of stock.

Plus a touch of wine…

and some cream…duh. Cause cream is awesome.
Then you are going to pour as much liquid in a large pot as it says on your package of polenta that the polenta needs to cook. Note that you may need to add more liquid as the time goes – we ended up needing a 1:1 polenta:liquid ratio to get the creamy, slightly liquid texture we wanted.
Add the polenta, and you are ready to go! Keep stirring the polenta liquid mixture so it doesn’t burn at the bottom. Start with the amount of liquid that the package calls for, and only add more liquid if the mixture gets too thick or starts to seize.
Now take a nice block of cheese…gorgozola or fontina would be lovely, but this truffle pecorino was a real treat. You want something with good meltability and a bit of its own flavor. Mozzarella would be too mild for this purpose.                                                                                                                                                       
Chop it up.

 And for heaven’s sake, keep stirring!

 In about 20 minutes (no whining, it’s good to build up arm muscles!) you will get this thick, luscious looking mixture that is positively loaded with truffle taste and aroma. If you don’t use the truffle cheese, you can always just splash a wee bit of truffle oil in there (sorry, Serious Eats, I still like the stuff!).
Let the polenta sit. It will thicken as it cools, and you can either cut it into wedges and lightly saute it, or – as I prefer – gently reheat it when serving time approaches and serve it mashed-potato style.

Has it been 2 hours? Good! Uncover the pot in the oven and SMELL that beefy, winey goodness. Toss the onions in, along with salt, pepper and…

 An entire small can of tomato paste. Let it simmer, covered but not foiled, for another half hour.

 Then skim the fat…

and enjoy (along with a delicious mushroom ragout, if you must…clearly, I must…)

This is just insanely delicious.  Juicy, tender beef, sweet carrots, those meltingly tender onions that are still whole but soft and perfectly straddling the line between sweet and astringent. The stock made the stew rich and umami-filled and the wine and tomato paste balance out he acidic and sweet aspects of the sauce. The polenta is creamy, rich and tastes of cream, corn and those earthy, heady truffles. This is a rich, deep meal and it is hearty enough for a mountain man but refined enough for Julia Child.
As we know, I’m more of a mountain man, myself.