My husband Bill has been telling me about his aunt Rifka and her asbestos hands for as long as we’ve known each other. He claims there was no pot so hot she couldn’t pick it up barehanded. (This amazing ability seems just slightly less amazing to me since I went to cooking school and developed some heat resistance of my own.) He also used to brag about his aunt’s delicious flying discs. I always wondered just what the heck they were and decided to find out when I started on my first book.
Rifka Silverberg Mellen was actually Bill’s great aunt-his mother’s mother’s older sister. She and Uncle Peter lived upstairs from Esther and her folks in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, where the whole family flourished after fleeing Odessa in the first decade of the twentieth century. It turns out that Rifka’s flying disks are nothing more exotic than matzo balls formed into silver dollar-sized disks and served in brisket gravy instead of chicken soup. Contrary to the image called up by their Space Age sobriquet, flying disks are not exactly lighter than air. In truth, they are dense and heavy. It’s more accurate (if considerably less glamorous) to call them sinkers, which is what Bill’s aunt Yetta called hers. Whatever. They’re scrumptious.
Serves 8 to 10
For the brisket:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
One 4 to 5 pound beef brisket, preferably flat cut with a 1/4-inch layer of fat left on
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced garlic
¼ cup tomato paste
3 cups dry red wine
2 bay leaves, preferably Turkish
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 quart chicken stock
For the flying disks:
¼ cup chicken stock
4 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup matzo meal
Preheat the oven to 300 F. and set a rack in the lower third of the oven.
Prepare the brisket. Heat the oil in a large casserole or Dutch oven over medium high heat until hot. Season the brisket on both sides with salt and pepper and add it to the Dutch oven, skin side down. (Note: you may need to cut the brisket in half and brown it in two batches.) Turn the heat down to medium and brown the brisket on both sides. Transfer the brisket to a plate and add the onions to the Dutch oven. Cook them, covered, over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until they are very soft. Remove the lid and continue to cook them, stirring occasionally, for another 15 minutes or until they are golden brown. Add the garlic and cook, stirring for 1 minute.
Add the tomato paste to the pan and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the wine, bring it to a boil and simmer until it is reduced to 1 cup. Add the bay leaves, thyme and chicken broth and bring the liquid to a boil. Return the brisket to the Dutch oven, along with any juices on the plate. Cover the complete surface of the brisket and the liquid with a piece of parchment paper, put a tight lid on the Dutch oven, and bake the brisket on the rack for 5 to 6 hours or until a knife when inserted into the meat goes in with no resistance.
Meanwhile, make the disks. Whisk the stock, eggs, oil and salt together in a medium bowl. Stir in the matzo meal to form a soft dough. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working with slightly mounded tablespoons of the dough, use wet hands to form the dough into disks about 11/2 inches wide and 1/2-inch thick. You should have about 18 disks. Drop them into the boiling water and reduce the heat to medium low. Cover and simmer until the disks are puffy and cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer them with a slotted spoon to a bowl and let them cool. Cover tightly and chill.
When the brisket is done, remove the parchment and the lid, and let it cool. Transfer the contents of the Dutch oven to a bowl and chill, covered with plastic wrap overnight.
The next day, preheat the oven to 350 F. Scoop off and discard any fat that has congealed on the surface of the cooking liquid. Remove the brisket from the liquid, slice it into 1/3- inch slices against the grain. Add the disks to the Dutch oven, put the sliced brisket on top and cover the surface with a piece of parchment paper. Put the Dutch oven on top of the stove, bring the liquid to a boil, transfer the Dutch oven to the oven and heat the brisket for 30 minutes or until it is hot.
To serve – transfer some of the brisket slices and a few disks to each plate, and spoon some of the cooking liquid over it.
1/2 cup horseradish, finely grated fresh (or drained prepared)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh chives, snipped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
kosher salt and freshly ground black to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
Mix horseradish, vinegar, sour cream, chives, snipped and lemon juice in a small bowl. Stir well to blend and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. You should have about 1 cup
Recommended side dish: sauteed broccolI rabe. Trim the tough ends of the broccoli rabe, blanch it in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes (blanching removes some of the bitterness), drain and pat it dry. Thinly slice peeled garlic (a good tool for this, is a truffle cutter), add it to a skillet with some olive oil and cook it over low heat until the garlic is light golden. Transfer the garlic chips with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, leaving the oil in the skillet. Add the broccoli to the skillet and cook it over medium high heat, until it is tender. Add the garlic chips and salt and pepper to taste.
Brisket is a cut of beef that comes from the lower chest or breast of a cow — is a tough cut of meat because of the high number of connective tissues in this part of the animal. Cooking brisket for an extended period of time loosens these tissues, creating a tender dish. But that’s only half the story. In order to get a delicious brisket, you not only must cook it properly, you also must buy a good cut of beef.Consider the different grades of brisket available. You can find briskets labeled “USDA Choice” or “USDA Select.” A brisket labeled “Choice” grade is a higher quality than one labeled “Select.”
Whole brisket typically weighs 8 to 12 pounds and is sold cut into 2 pieces — the first (or flat) cut and the second (or point) cut. Select a first cut that’s evenly thick with a cap of fat on one side. For an extra-moist brisket, don’t trim the fat. The deckle is a thin layer of meat with a lot of connective tissue and fat that lies on the underside of the brisket; on the point cut. It can be removed easily.
If you are a lover of brisket, you must pick up this book: The Brisket Book, A Love Story with Recipes, by Stephanie Pierson.
Matzo meal is made by finely grinding matzo crackers into a breadcrumb-like consistency. This meal is very commonly called for in recipes at Passover. The most well known use for matzo meal is in matzo balls, but the versatile meal can also act as a binding agent in place of regular bread crumbs in foods such as meatballs and even as a thickener in some dishes.