Ashkenazi Jews in Europe, generally being poor, could only afford less expensive, tough cuts of meat that required long cooking time to tenderize. Often only small amounts of meat were cooked along with large amounts of beans and vegetables (as in cholent, a slow-cooking Shabbat lunch dish). As immigrants to North America became more prosperous, larger portions of meat were cooked at one time, but the favored cut of meat was still the brisket, which required slow cooking for flavor and tenderness.
As times changed so did cooking techniques. Preparation time was often shortened even if cooking time remained long.
The following recipe is easy and delicious and part of my family’s holiday traditions. When my daughter Leslie was studying in Rome one fall semester and couldn’t be home for Rosh Hashanah she wanted to re-create this recipe to feel closer to home. After receiving 10 slices of meat from the kosher butcher, because he was not familiar or did not understand what “brisket” was, I showed Leslie over Skype how to follow this recipe with the slices pushed together, and I demonstrated the butcher fold from 5600 miles away. There was no clearer lesson for me about how important a role memories play in our culinary heritage.
1 4-6–pound brisket
1 12-ounce jar of apricot preserves
1 envelope of dried onion soup mix
1. Place a large piece of extra-wide heavy-duty foil shiny side up in a roasting pan.
2. Sprinkle half the contents of the onion soup envelope on the foil.
3. Spread ½ of the jar of apricot preserves over the soup mix.
Place the meat fat side up (if there is a fat side) in the pan over the preserves and dried soup mix.
4. Sprinkle the remaining soup mix over the meat, and dot with the remaining preserves, being careful that the spoon for the preserves never touches the meat.
5. Make a butcher’s fold with the foil: bring the long sides of the foil together and make 3 or 4 folds to seal close to but not tight on the meat. At either end, flatten the foil, fold up 2 times, fold the points in like you would wrapping a present, and then fold across the end 2 more times to seal the end. Repeat on the other side.
6. Place in a 300F oven and roast for 4 hours
7. Carefully open a corner of the foil and pierce the meat with a fork. If the fork goes in easily the meat is done. If not, seal foil and return to the oven for another 30 minutes. When the meat is fully cooked, carefully re-open the foil and pour the gravy into a container. Chill the meat in the foil in the refrigerator until it is cold. Freeze for later use, or slice the cold meat on a slight diagonal against the grain.
8. When ready to serve, skim the fat off the gravy, pour the gravy over the meat, place in a microwave-safe container and cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high for 5-6 minutes or until heated through.