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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Brisket for Passover and Beyond! What could be bad?

I’m a pescatarian.  I know that it’s unusual to see a brisket recipe from someone who hasn’t eaten brisket in well over 20 years.  But, my mom loves brisket and I love my mom, so I make brisket and some other non-pescatarian foods for her.  She’ll still be in Florida this year for Passover, but I’ve made it for her before and she loved it. 

There’s a few should do’s when you cook brisket, and I’ll list those hints here before we get to the recipe so you can decide what you do or don’t want to do. 

Hint #1 – Brown the brisket in the same pan in which you are going to braise it.  For Passover you won’t dredge it in flour (you will at other times of the year), but you should still brown it for about 5 minutes on each side.  Have some tongs available to turn it and to hold it up when you scrape the pieces of meat that stuck to the bottom of the pot when you were browning.

Hint #2 – Braise the brisket ahead of time.  The day before is great.  You could make it the same day, but it’s always better (and easier) if you make it ahead of time.

Hint #3 - Brisket should be cooked in a heavy pot, like a Dutch Oven, and it should have a tight seal.  I’ve even heard of people making a seal with flour and water around the seal, but then it’s hard to open to check the level of the cooking liquid.

Hint #4 – Keep the cooking liquid level just under ¾ of the way to the top of the meat.  Don’t drown it. 

Hint #5 – This recipe calls for broth as the cooking liquid.  If my sister Carol wasn’t allergic to red wine, I would use half broth and half Cote du Rhone, or a nice Burgundy.  (or maybe all wine and no broth, depending on the mood). There are plenty of good full bodied Kosher wines now.  I haven’t tried too many but I know of Castel, Grand Vin Castel  2003 from Israel, but it’s pricey, as are many of the good Kosher wines.

Hint #6 – Don’t make brisket if you have to meet someone at the airport in 2 hours.  You have to cook it at a low temperature, between 300 and 325 degrees.  And you will cook it for 3-4 hours – with a short break in the middle (see Hint #7).

Hint #7 – Take the brisket out after about 2 hours.  It will still be stiff, let it sit for about 20 minutes.  This is the perfect time to slice it (against the grain of course), then put it (and all the juices) back in the pot. Keep cooking for about 1 more hour.  Why would you slice it at this point?  The meat will be so tender that it may be difficult to slice later.  Do it now and give yourself a break later.  At this point I also scoop out the veggies, and put in new ones - that way they only cook for 1 or 2 hours and they have some of their own flavor left.

Hint #8 - Some people like to thicken the gravy, some don't, it's your choice. If you decide you want to thicken it, here is a hint, and it's not just for Passover even though I'm using Potato Starch.  My mom used flour to thicken or sometimes even oatmeal, but I find that Potato Starch works really well and really fast.  You can use a small bowl with a small whisk, but my mom always used a small jar to shake it up and I find that the small jar method is my favorite. This is your slurry.  It's really important to make your slurry rather than adding the potato starch or flour directly to the cooking liquid or you'll get lumps all over the place.  Add about 1 Tablespoon Potato Starch  first and then add 1/4 cup wine (or water) and shake it up baby.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Polenta - the almost no stir method

I was introduced to polenta (and to most of my cooking skills) by the mom of my dear friend Peter Cauterucci.  Mary Cauterucci could cook.  Had she been born at a different time, she would have been the CEO of a large, very successful company.  Instead she had 11 children and cooked each day like a top chef.  No spaghetti and meatballs in the Cauterucci house, it was high-end northern Italian fare for her family.

She taught me how to make polenta, and I loved it.  But, I hate standing over a stove and stirring.  So, I found a better way (not more delicious, just easier).  I'm not saying it is my invention, but I received tips from friends over the years and I don't know who to thank, so I'm just putting this out here.
        Course Stone  Ground for Polenta                             Fine Ground for Corn Bread & Muffins
Tip #1 - Use course Stone Ground corn meal.  Fine grind is for corn bread, not polenta.  Medium grind is OK, but course grind really gives you the results you want for polenta.  There's instant polenta too, but although it's not terrible, there's nothing like the real thing.

Tip #2 - Use just a pinch of baking powder.  How do you measure a pinch?  My mom bought me measuring spoons that measure a pinch, a smidgen etc, but you don't need that.  Simply pinch some  baking  powder between your fingers and there it is! A pinch!.  I started doing this a few years ago and it really makes the polenta smooth and just the right consistency without all the stirring. I wish I could credit whoever it was who gave me this tip, but I have no idea who it was, sorry.

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