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.
Recipe by Daryl Cantor
2 large onions, minced
5-10 pound brisket of beef
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).