Red Braised Brisket (for a sweet new year)
Red braised recipes—particularly cuts of fatty pork, like pork belly—are common in many regions of China. They require long cooking times but are pretty hands off and require few ingredients—fatty cuts of meat, Shaoxing wine, aromatics, and dark soy sauce for color. The sugar and meat fat melt together to create an addictive, rich, sticky sauce. Some versions include root vegetables and/or tofu skins, which extend the dish and make good use of the tasty sauce. It is often served on special occasions such as the Chinese New Year.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah of the year 5780, the Jewish New Year of 2020, we are faced with celebrating new beginnings in a time when it does not feel like there is all that much to celebrate. Families will gather over video calls once more, or perhaps in-person with their local communities, beneath the shadow of guilt and fear. High Holiday services are the most well-attended events of most synagogues, but these places of worship will remain empty this year. Even still, these yearly celebrations bookmark our moments in time. They remind us that time moves forward, and we may have sweeter years in the future.
I wanted to design a Rosh Hashanah main course of familiar flavors and traditional ingredients that can be easily scaled down for 2-4 people, but that differs from the typical Ashkenazi Jewish sweet and sour brisket that most of us expect to see on the holiday table. This brisket recipe is adapted from the Eastern Chinese Red Braised Pork Belly recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice Chinese cookbook, which I highly recommend! It uses the flavors of Chinese red braised dishes but is made with Kosher-friendly ingredients and will resemble a Jewish braised brisket centerpiece. The cooking method works for large cuts of brisket—a traditional holiday centerpiece—but tastes just as good with oxtails or large chunks of fatty brisket. The beauty of the red braised flavor is that it will taste just as good with a full Chinese meal as with a kugel.
This recipe is for a 2-pound brisket, which will feed 2-3 people as a main course. To adapt the recipe for a larger group, increase the ingredients proportionately and the oven cooking time by 45 minutes to 1 hour per pound of beef. You can also add daikon radish, sweet potato, yam, taro root, potatoes, soaked tofu skins, eggs...the options for expanding on this dish are wonderful. If you want the symbolic element, you can substitute leeks for the green onions. You will need an oven-safe casserole dish with a lid, preferably one that can go on the stovetop as well. I use a clay pot.
You can let the cooked brisket sit in the fridge overnight, then skim off the fat, slice, and reheat in the remaining sauce for a lighter version.
One two-pound brisket
2 tbsp neutral oil or schmaltz
6 slices ginger root
Four cloves of garlic, crushed
Two green onions, the white ends crushed, the green ends sliced into one-inch pieces
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine (you can substitute sherry if you must)
1/4 cup coconut sugar, jaggery, or brown sugar
Chicken broth—at least 3 cups, possibly more depending on the size of your cooking pot
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1-2 tablespoons sweet dark soy sauce (Indonesian brands of Kecap Manis are gluten-free, but use whatever type you want)
1 tablespoon soy or tamari sauce
Preheat an oven to 325º F
Sprinkle both sides of the brisket with salt and white pepper
Heat your clay pot to medium and add the oil or schmaltz. Add the ginger, garlic, and whites of the onions or leek and stir fry until fragrant
Add the brisket to the pot and brown on all sides. If you need to cut the brisket to fit it in the pot, that is fine. It tastes best in a more crowded pot so that the sauce thickens, and the meat cooks in its own fat.
Pour in the Shaoxing wine. Add chicken stock until the brisket is submerged in the broth. Add the rest of the ingredients besides the greens of the onion.
Cover the clay pot with its lid and place in the oven. Cook at 325 for 3 hours, adding an hour per pound depending on the size of your brisket. Check on the brisket every hour or so and add more broth if too much of the brisket is exposed. It should be fall apart tender at the end of the braise.
Remove the brisket from the oven and let sit for 20-30 minutes. Remove to a cutting board and slice. Spoon sauce over the top to serve.