Ilana Dean, major gifts officer for the National Museum of American Jewish History, reconnects with her roots through food.
“I remember going to my grandparents’ home for dinner on a regular basis and having the most delicious brisket — or ‘brust’ as they called it. My granddad, Jack Richman, used to put Plochman’s yellow mustard on his — I can still see that plastic barrel-shaped container on the table.”
Dean’s grandmother, Thelma Richman, was a Francophile, so her brust was a Yiddish take on boeuf Bourguignon. Ilana continues: “My grandmother studied at the Sorbonne, and she loved all things French, so this was her way of connecting the two cultures.”
Preparing for dinner guests last week, Dean hearkened back to her heritage.
“This is classic comfort food for me. I was raised on Jewish deli food, Horn & Hardart’s, so this is familiar and delicious. I love the flavor of the brisket, and it was the perfect dish for a cold night. I don’t eat much meat — brisket is one of the few that I do enjoy because it is so tender. It was even better the second day.”
Her secret: “Lots of onions! The more the merrier. And in terms of cooking time — the longer the better. You can’t really overcook brisket; the flavor just deepens and the meat sort of falls apart, which is good.”
Her menu included the brisket with potatoes, spinach sauteed in olive oil and garlic, plenty of red wine and dark chocolate for dessert. L’chaim: Gramma Thelma and Grampa Jack would approve.
Ilana Dean’s Brust
1 6-pound brisket
2 teaspoons flour
Fresh ground pepper and
3 tablespoons canola oil
8 onions, sliced
3 tablespoons tomato sauce
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 whole carrots
3-4 pounds red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into chunks
Water or broth for braising as needed
Heat your oven to 350 degrees.
Dust the brisket with flour, salt and pepper. Heat the oil in an ovenproof pot and sear the brisket on all sides until it’s just beginning to brown.
Transfer the brisket to a plate and add the onions to pot. Scrape the bottom of pot and cook the onions until they are browning — about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and carrots to the onions, and pour any meat drippings from the platter into the pot.
Place the meat into the pot and top it with tomato sauce. Cover, and bake in in the oven for 1½ hours.
Remove the brisket from the oven and place it on a cutting board. Slice the meat on a diagonal, across the grain. Push the slices back together, and return the brisket to the pot. Taste the braising liquid and adjust the salt and pepper as needed. If the pot is dry, add ¼ cup of water or broth.
Lower the heat to 325 degrees, cover the pot and return it to the oven. It will cook for another 1½ to 2 hours total.
After an hour in the oven, add the potatoes, tucking them into the liquid. While the meat cooks, check it every 30 minutes to baste. Add more water or broth if the pot seems dry.
Serves 8-10 with leftovers