Brisket tips to calm any Rosh Hashana panic

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Should you awake to discover that a holiday has been convened, fear not. You can still achieve brisket.

The self-satisfied set will chide: You should be marinating already. The Southern sort will drawl: You should be smoking already. The fancy cook will scold: You should be fussing already. But as long as you can get your hands on a brisket and an afternoon, you're good to go.

Not that brisket always cooperates. I've made brisket braised with preserved lemons, which wasn't sweet. Brisket bristling with pomegranate seeds, which wasn't good. Brisket so bland I tossed in a pound of bacon, which wasn't -- I learned -- kosher.

Usually I wait until 5:45 p.m. to panic. Then I call my brother-in-law, who administers his motto -- leave it in longer. Or my father-in-law, who administers his motto -- add wine. And both work.

Because the basic brisket conundrum is this: Brisket is a chewy, cheap cut of beef redolent of the gristled basket from which it takes its name. Transforming the caveman slab into company dinner calls for a powerful tenderizing agent. The ancient recipe leaves the civilizing process to beer, Coke, ginger ale, cranberry relish, powdered soup, ketchup, cocktail sauce and any number of other terrible ideas. The point being something acidic, to bite into the tough fibers, and something sweet, for balance. Red wine, though predictable, offers predictably delicious results.

Once you absorb the basic technique, it's really not a complicated undertaking. Throw everything in a big, heavy pot and leave it in the oven all afternoon. If the results come in shy of delightful, simply follow the sages and cook it longer. That, or add wine.

leahreskin@aol.com

Basic brisket



Prep: 35 minutes Wait: 2 hours Cook: 2-3 hours Serves: 8

1 beef brisket, about 5 pounds

2 tablespoons coarse salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper

Flour

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

10 cloves garlic, smashed

2 each in 1-inch chunks: carrots, ribs celery

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 cup dried apricots

6 sprigs parsley

2 each: bay leaves, sprigs thyme

¼ cup tomato paste

1 bottle red wine

2 cups beef broth

Prep: Season brisket with salt and pepper. Refrigerate covered 2 to 24 hours.

Brown: Sprinkle brisket with flour, shaking off excess. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium- high heat. Brown brisket, 5 minutes per side. Lift out brisket; tumble in garlic, carrots, celery and onion. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned, 10 minutes. Add apricots, parsley, bay leaves, thyme and tomato paste. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

Braise: Set brisket on top of vegetables. Pour in wine. Liquid should rise half way up the side of the meat. Add broth as needed. Heat to a simmer. Cover; cook in 350-degree oven until fork tender, 2-3 hours.

Slice: Let cool. Slice meat thinly against the grain. Heat liquid over medium heat until thick. Strain sauce; pour back into Dutch oven. Lay in sliced meat; reheat gently. If you have time, refrigerate overnight and reheat gently.

Provenance: Adapted from Wolfgang Puck, with advice from opinionated family cooks.

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