Passover 2011–where’s the beef?

I know, it’s not technically Passover anymore. Time to move on. But I couldn’t let this holiday season pass without talking, ever-so-quickly, about Molly, my Jew-cooking partner in crime.

Or, more specifically, her brisket.

I know I sound like a broken record, but beef and I have been estranged for years. More than anything, it’s texture. I just can’t quite get on board with it, the oozy pink sponginess of a medium-rare steak or the rough crinkly mass of a hamburger patty. Yick.

But Passover brisket is different. It’s braised, for hours, in a broth of red wine and onions, until it slumps and sighs and relaxes into ribbons at the first wave of a fork. Molly’s brisket brings me right back to the seders of my childhood, sitting in the living room of my great-aunt’s tiny dark apartment in Anaheim, with my parents and my cousins and the candles on the table. I remember the strand of tiny silver bells on the front doorknob, how they tinkled when we opened the door for Elijah, how I always stared into the tar-black darkness outside and shivered in my chair. I remember the full-body frissons of impatience, and curiosity, and mischievous anticipation as the Afikoman was tucked away for safekeeping. I remember all those years of squirming and kicking the table legs, before I grew up and developed the patience to wait quietly for my supper.

So thanks to Molly for bringing back a piece of childhood. Oh, and I should probably mention that the meat’s damn tasty too.

Molly’s Beef Brisket (we served 12 with this easily)

1 5-lb center cut of beef brisket

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes

2 cups red wine

1 tbsp orange marmalade or apricot preserves

1 packet Lipton’s Onion Soup mix

2-3 cups water (depends on the size of the brisket and pan)

Preheat oven to 350º F. Trim fat from brisket and place in a deep-sided roasting pan. Scatter onions and tomatoes over top, then dissolve marmalade or preserves and soup mix in the wine and pour over the brisket. Add enough water to come about a quarter of the way up the side of the meat. Cover tightly and bake for about 2 1/2 hours, or until the brisket is fork-tender. About halfway through the cooking process, flip the brisket over, spoon the solids over top and baste with the juices. When the brisket is done, remove from oven and let cool, then refrigerate overnight in the sauce.

The next day, scoop out the congealed fat from the pan. Remove the brisket from the sauce and use a sharp carving knife to slice against the grain, about half an inch thick. Meanwhile, blend the solids and some of the liquids from the roasting pan until smooth–you want something about the consistency of barbeque sauce. In a large deep-sided skillet or other pan, combine the brisket and the blended sauce, making sure to get sauce in between the slices. Cover and set aside until ready to reheat. Reheat slowly over medium heat for about half an hour, or until everything is thoroughly warmed. Serve with plenty of sauce.

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