Back in biblical days, wily Jacob knew the value of adding chestnut to foods. After he put chestnut twigs in the water he fed to his father-in-law Laban’s strongest cattle, they gave birth to spotted calves. Good news for Jacob: he had just cut a deal with Laban—all the spotted cattle in the flock now belonged to him. (The tale lives on in the beautiful spotted heirloom beans known as Jacob’s Cattle.)
Today, chestnuts continue to lend their charms to many Jewish dishes. As they do for the French and the Japanese, sweet chestnuts serve as New Year’s food for Jews from Transylvania, who eat them when reciting the Sheheheyonu, a prayer for new fruits at Rosh Hashanah. At Sukkot, Hungarian Jews cook them in a special tsimmes, and I have seen several variations for a Passover haroset recipe from Padua, Italy, all calling for chestnuts.
Here the chestnuts break up, imparting a nutty sweetness to the brisket. To build additional layers of flavor, I first stud the meat with garlic, then bathe it in a pomegranate molasses and balsamic vinegar marinade.
Cut half the garlic into thin lengthwise slivers and set the rest aside. Make a little slit in the fat side of the brisket with the point of a small, sharp knife. Insert a garlic sliver into the slit, using your fingers and the knife tip to push it in as far as possible. In the same way, insert the remaining slivers all over the top and bottom of the brisket, spacing them as evenly as you can.
If you have a heavy resealable plastic bag or roasting bag large enough to hold the brisket, put the meat in the bag and place it on a baking sheet. Otherwise, just put the brisket in a large non-reactive pan or bowl. Combine the pomegranate molasses or temerhindi, balsamic vinegar, and crushed peppercorns in a small bowl. Chop the remaining garlic and add it to the bowl. Pour the mixture over the brisket. Close the plastic bag or cover the pan with foil and marinate the meat in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 4 hours, turning the meat occasionally.
Remove the meat from the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature. Take out the brisket and pat it dry with paper towels. Reserve the marinade.
Because the brisket tends to splatter somewhat from the marinade (even if patted dry), and because it is so large, I find it easier to brown the meat under the broiler. Just cover the broiler pan well with foil to minimize cleanup. If you prefer, sear the brisket on top of the stove. I offer both methods.
Method one: preheat the broiler. Place the brisket under the broiler, fat side up, on a foil-lined broiler pan. Broil for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, until browned. Don’t allow it to develop a hard, dark crust, which might make the meat tough or bitter. Move the meat around as necessary, so it sears evenly. Transfer the brisket to a platter and set aside.
Method two: heat
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
If you browned the meat under the broiler, heat
Salt and pepper the brisket to taste on both sides, and add it to the pan, fat side up. Spoon the vegetables over the meat. Cover tightly and place in the oven.
Braise the meat for 1½ hours, basting with the pan sauce and vegetables every 30 minutes. Add the chestnuts. Cover the pan again and continue cooking and basting for 1 to 2 hours or longer, until the meat is fork-tender. (When you baste, check that the liquid is bubbling gently. If it is boiling rapidly, turn the oven down to 300°F.)
Remove the pan from the oven and cool the meat for at least 1 hour in the braising liquid. (If possible, refrigerate the cooled brisket and other solids in the braising liquid, covered, overnight. The meat will have more time to reabsorb its cooking juices, and it will be easier to scrape off all the solid fat from the surface of the meat and braising liquid.)
When ready to serve, skim off any congealed fat and bring everything to room temperature, if refrigerated. Transfer the meat, chestnuts, and carrots to a platter (reserve a couple of carrots—and some chestnut pieces, if desired—for thickening the gravy).
Make the gravy: remove and discard the thyme sprigs and strain the braising mixture, reserving the solids. Skim and discard as much fat as possible from the liquid. In a food processor or a blender, puree most of the solids, including the reserved carrots and chestnuts, with
Reduce the heat, add the meat, the reserved carrots and chestnuts, and simmer until piping hot.
Cut the brisket into thin slices across the grain at a slight diagonal. Arrange the sliced brisket on the serving platter with the carrots and chestnuts. Spoon some of the hot sauce all over the meat and pass the rest in a sauce boat. Spiced Pomegranate Molasses Applesauce makes a smashing accompaniment.
© 2008 Jayne Cohen. All rights reserved.