The Trials and Tribulations of Making Brisket in Israel

Up until now, finding familiar ingredients in Israel hasn’t been a problem. But for Thanksgiving, the most singularly American of all holidays, the ante was upped. While it would be interesting, a possible improvement even, to try to merge our new culture with our old, there is something about Thanksgiving that makes that difficult. I can see it happening over years, couscous replacing stuffing, borekas replacing rolls. But for this, our first Thanksgiving in Israel, we tried like mad to make it taste just like home.

With a 45-person dinner of ex-pat med students and their spouses and a spreadsheet to determine who would make what, Thanksgiving was no simple affair. I knew that my family staples of turkey and mashed potatoes would be taken care of, so opted instead to shoot for Evan’s favorite Thanksgiving favorites: his mom’s beef brisket and pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. Lucky for us our in-laws were visiting until the day before Thanksgiving and my mother-in-law was going to pass along some culinary wisdom.

Their suitcase was packed with the few essentials I knew we couldn’t get here: canned pumpkin and Sherry vinegar. Little did I know I should have told them to include a brisket in their care package. Challenge #1: they butcher animals differently here and therefore it is difficult to get equivalent cuts of meat. Despite the prevalence of brisket in New York Ashkenazi culture, in Israel the dish and the cut of beef is virtually nonexistent.

On Israeli charts of beef cuts, option number three is supposedly the closest to brisket. So there I am at the shuq asking about cut number shalosh (three). First the butcher thought I wanted three pieces of steak. No. Then I began miming to indicate that the  cut of beef I was looking for came from the front. He  went into the back and returned with the closest looking thing to brisket we’d seen.

Challenge #2 involved determining if the meat we had purchased was lamb or beef. He said it was beef, but when I got home and took a good whiff of the raw meat, it sure smelled like lamb to me. What else to do but cook it? We’d find out soon enough… Challenge #3 revolves around the general problem of Americans adjusting to Israeli ovens.  They’re electric, they’re in Celsius, and they have a separate dial with pictographs indicating all kinds of mystery settings. The good news is that I think I have a pseudo-convection oven. The bad news is, I have no idea how to use it.

We roasted, flipped, seasoned, and basted before it was time for the in-laws to head out, leaving the brisket and I to our own devices. I wasn’t thrilled with my end product, but that had everything to do with my meat and oven and nothing to do with the recipe. My brisket was tough – not at all the tender, falling apart beef that I know and love. And although I’m pretty sure it was beef, it still had a slightly lamby taste that I found off-putting. If you’re in the States, or feeling adventurous in Israel, do try this recipe. It’s usually the best brisket ever. And even if it didn’t  come out perfectly, it did make it feel a little more like home.

G.G.’s Brisket
Recipe by Daryl Cantor

2 large onions, minced
5-10 pound brisket of beef
Onion Powder
Garlic Powder
½ cup ketchup
1½ cups water

Put the minced onions on the bottom of a large roasting pan. Lay out the meat on top and sprinkle with onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Cover with tin foil and broil until brown. Flip and season the other side with onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Return to the oven and roast at 350F for 1 hour. In a separate container mix together the ketchup and water until well combined. Pour into the roasting pan, adding more water if necessary. Return to the oven and roast, covered, for another half an hour. Flip the meat every half an hour and add more water if needed. Cook until fork comes out easily when pierced, three to four hours total.

Separate the meat from the gravy and refrigerate overnight. Before serving slice the meat on a bias and return to the roasting pan, layering with gravy. Cook, covered, at 350F for about 1 hour, or until warmed through. Transfer brisket to a serving platter and strain the remaining liquid into a gravy boat. Serve with potatoes (roast them in a bit of the brisket gravy for extra flavor).

13 thoughts on “The Trials and Tribulations of Making Brisket in Israel

    • Katherine

      Haha it does look freaky… apparently cut #12 is the fillet and is
      used for steaks and carpaccio, but is difficult to find.

  1. Daryl

    Katherine you did a beautiful job of writing about our brisket experience. Scott and I will just have to come back next year with the real thing in our suitcase. Cooking with you and going to BGU and meeting all of your friends were the highlights our trip. We are so very proud of both of you!!!!!!!

  2. Andrew

    Katherine, instead of going to the shuq for your meat, go to Shiri in the old city. The owner/butcher speaks English, knows what he is doing, and is plenty familiar with American-style cuts. Although they sell only kosher beef, his shop is not under rabbinic supervision – so none of it is pre-salted. Butchers don’t even sell skirt steaks, but he prepares one for me whenever I ask him to.

  3. jody

    So is skirt steak cut from the brisket. I would love to grill some skirt steaks if you know where to buy. I live in the sharon area outside kfar saba

    • Andrew / Andy

      Skirt steak comes from the plate – “south” of the brisket. Now that word of Shiri skirt steaks has gotten out (probably my fault), Avi is charging me 70 NIS per kilo. I used to pay 55! It’s still a great deal, though, as there is no fat, bone, or gristle. I used a jaccard to tenderize two skirt steaks that I made for Shabbat lunch, and they were the best they had ever turned out. Katherine – I am glad that you and Avi have connected. The pomegranate-port reduction sounds amazing.

      • Katherine

        Andy it’s all because of you that I found Shiri! Thanks so much for the recommendation. I haven’t gotten brisket from him yet but Thanksgiving is coming up again so it will be time yet again. I do love his skirt steak and he also has great lamb and sausage. Again, great find!!

  4. Rachel Stern

    I love skirt steak. Where in the Old City is this butcher? Does the shop have a name? What is the address? Thanks for this post.

    • Katherine

      Hi Rachel – Shiri is at Trumpeldor 45, 08-6271926. It’s kosher. He’s an excellent butcher and speaks great English. In addition to butchering any cut of meat you’d like they also have excellent sausage and kebab.

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