Give Brisket the French Onion Soup Treatment for a Decadent Passover

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For the past few years, brisket has reigned supreme at the butcher counter. The versatile lean, beefy cut is the base for pastrami and corned beef, and it has cameos on such shows as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It is so popular in the world of barbecue that a sharp rise in price at the start of the pandemic provoked panic in Texas.

Brisket is a meat that’s delicious when it’s cooked to tenderness—and disastrous when it’s not.

It’s also a very loaded topic, especially around the table at Passover, the Jewish holiday that starts on March 27.

Give Brisket the French Onion Soup Treatment for a Decadent Passover

“Brisket is political,” declares Jake Cohen in his excellent new Jew-ish: A Cookbook: Recipes from a Modern Mensch  (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $30). “You may think of it as a cozy braise, but it’s so much more. Gentiles may have family crests, but Jews have family brisket recipes.”

Jew-ish contains 100 recipes, many of them clever updates, including shakshuka alla vodka, knish-wrapped pigs-in-a-blanket, and matzo tiramisu (tiramatzu), There are also straightforward dishes in the mix, such as a confidently braided challah. Cohen’s skill is to energize dishes and ingredients that get stuck in the clichés of Jewish cooking. “Books are still so popular, because they have a voice and not just recipes,” says Cohen. “This book is my queer Jewish love story” with a cuisine.  In fact, he tested each recipe by serving it at a Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner. “I didn’t want recipes just to work, but to also work in the context of Jewish hospitality,” he says.

Give Brisket the French Onion Soup Treatment for a Decadent Passover

Cohen devotes significant real estate in the book to brisket. He offers two recipes, one tending toward the more familiar version that’s braised with tomatoes. But the option that has become more popular with his family is a brisket that pays homage to French onion soup. The meat simmers in a bath of onions that have been caramelized with Calvados. The result is a tender, fatty meat in a sweet saucy broth that has a bite of alcohol. “It’s fun, delicious, and nostalgic, because who doesn’t love French onion soup?” says Cohen.

Give Brisket the French Onion Soup Treatment for a Decadent Passover

Still, the most important brisket intel delivered by Cohen is how to ensure that the meat is tender and tasty and doesn’t arrive at the table in a shredded heap. He advises cooks never to trim the fat before cooking because it locks in so much flavor. Just as important is to allow enough time to refrigerate the braised meat overnight, so you can slice it when it’s cold and it will stay intact. (Tester’s note: Even if this expert advice leaves you with some falling-apart slices, pile delicious onions on top of it.)

Cohen, whose videos of slicing avocados and braiding dough on Instagram and TikTok have helped make him a social media star, has one more tip for the art of carving brisket:  “If you see someone grab an electric knife, just say no.”

The following recipe is adapted from Jew-ish, by Jake Cohen.

French Onion Brisket

Give Brisket the French Onion Soup Treatment for a Decadent Passover

Serves 8 to 10

One 4- to 5-pound beef brisket, fat cap intact (see Note)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
4 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
10 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 cup Calvados, brandy or sherry
2 1/2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
5 thyme sprigs
3 sage sprigs

Give Brisket the French Onion Soup Treatment for a Decadent Passover

Preheat the oven to 325F. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season each side of the brisket with 1 heavy pinch apiece of salt and pepper. Sear, turning as needed, until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the brisket to a platter.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions and garlic to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Add the Calvados, then stir for 1 minute to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot.

Stir in the stock and 2 heavy pinches each of salt and pepper. Return the brisket to the pot. If desired, tie the thyme and sage sprigs together with a small piece of butcher’s twine to make it easier to remove them, and nestle the herbs in the pot. Bring to a simmer, then cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 3  to 3 ½ hours, until the meat is very tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and let cool completely, then refrigerate overnight, or up to 2 days.

The next day, skim off and discard any fat along with the herbs. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and slice ¼ inch thick across the grain (perpendicular to the fibers you’ll see running through the brisket). Return the meat to the sauce and warm over medium heat until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper, then serve.

Note: Cohen’s Buying Brisket 101: The cut comes down to choosing between the leaner “first” (or flat) cut and the “second” (or point) cut. While his preferred cut is the point, which contains the good-looking layer of fatty deckle, either works. A big issue with brisket is how to fit such a big cut of meat in your Dutch oven without buying a supersized one. “You can 100% halve the brisket crosswise to make it more manageable,” writes Cohen in the book. “Just sear it off in batches before braising.” But, he says, if you can keep it whole, that’s still the best-case scenario for a low-and-slow buildup of flavor.

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