Annie’s Wine Baked Brisket and the Multi-Cultural Collaboration That Became a St. Patrick’s Day Tradition

Cows are sacred, salt is expensive, cross the sea trading is prohibited and immigrants had to get to New York. In a nut shell, those are the four substantial situations that had to occur in order to bring brisket to your dining tables today. Happy St. Patrick’s Day dear readers!   Today’s post is all about a traditional Irish food that actually is, in reality, a multi-cultural collaboration between three countries.  While it is certain that many a crock-pot will be simmering away today in honor of the holiday, and the famous corned beef and cabbage that has become associated with it, you might be surprised to learn that the propulsion for this traditional heritage food actually has more to do with New York City than Ireland.

The Kerry cow is considered to be the oldest breed of cattle in Ireland.

It all started back in Ireland’s ancient times when cows were considered sacred animals. Valued for their milk and their strength over anything else, Irish cows were essential components to a working farm and were never considered a viable meat source. But England adored beef, particularly roasts, so much so that by the 1600’s, England couldn’t keep up with their own country’s supply and demand.  So they went to Ireland to see about some cows.

A good revenue stream for the Emerald Isle, and a can’t-live-without-it commodity for England, this cow commerce between countries was mutually beneficial for all.  That is until the Cattle Acts of the 1660’s. In an instant, thanks to the Act, the sale of live cows to England was no longer allowed.  The sudden halt in commerce left Ireland scrambling for a solution and left England grumbly with hungry bellies.  This all came about at a time when salt was also an extremely expensive ingredient in England. Ireland, on the other hand, was not only flush with cattle but also abundant with coastal salt pans. The combination of these two  riches formed a clever way for Ireland to package meat for export that skirted around the law. They created a new method of food preservation called corned beef – a salted meat product that could withstand time and travel to England without spoiling.

Coming from the brisket cut of the cow (located between the front knees and the shoulder area) this salt infused food was named corned beef because of the corn kernal-sized salt crystals used in preserving it.  Generally known as a tougher piece of meat since that area of a cow’s body gets quite a lot of exercise, early corned beef was essentially just a slab of meat that was rumored to taste more like salt than beef.

Commercial Cuts of Beef chart from the Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, 1967 edition

Because it was shelf stable, easy to prepare and came in bigger portions, corned beef became a popular staple in the diets of 18th century Englanders as well as sailors away at sea for long stretches of time. It even made its way into the diets of Early American colonists who were struggling to produce food for their new country. The only people who were not enjoying this salty slice of protein were the Irish, who, in a terrible twist of irony, couldn’t afford to buy the very product they were exporting.

Newly arrived immigrants at Ellis Island. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

It would take one more century and a move to America before Irish immigrants were able to afford and enjoy the corned beef that made their home country famous. In the mid-late 1800’s, a majority of the butcher shops within the New York metropolitan area were owned and operated by Jewish immigrants.

The Lustgarten family owned a Jewish butcher shop in NYC in the late 1880’s. Photo courtesy of tenement.org

Living in close knit communities, both Irish and Jewish transplants bonded over feelings of displacement and discrimination experienced in their new world. Financial resources were a challenge for most city dwellers, but especially for these two ethnic groups in-particular, as they faced prejudices in work and social environments. Luckily, food brought them together via thrift and necessity and novelty.

Market shopping along NYC’s Mulberry Street in 1900

Upon arriving in America, Irish immigrants were delighted to discover that corned beef was much less expensive in New York then it was back home in Ireland. Likewise,  Jewish immigrants liked brisket because it was one of the least expensive cuts in the butcher shop and could feed a crowd.  Through experimentation in their New York City kitchens,  Jewish and Irish newcomers developed the low, slow cooking methods that eventually evolved brisket from a salty slab of preserved meat into a rich and flavorful meal.  Cabbage was often paired with it since it was the least expensive vegetable. Both cultures developed their own trademark dishes – slow simmered corned beef and cabbage for the Irish and smoked pastrami and sauerkraut for the Jewish community. Each specialty stemmed from the humble brisket cut.

Beef Chart from the Culinary Arts Encyclopedic Cookbook circa 1948

Today’s recipe focuses on the Jewish side of cooking, with a brisket that quickly browns in butter on the stove top before heading into the oven for a slow simmer in red wine. If you are not a fan of the saltiness of traditional corned beef, or are wary of the seasoning packet that comes in most store-bought brisket kits, this recipe is a great alternative, since you can control your own level of spices. It comes from Annie, an avid cook, and a world traveler who lived in New York for most of her life. A dear friend to my father, she’s proud of her Jewish heritage and is famous for many signature dishes including homemade horseradish (more on that in a future post).

Annie sent this recipe to my dad over email 15 years ago while she  was at sea traveling between Buenos Aires and Santiago.  The trip was rough with wild waves and cold temperatures but Annie was more than happy to take a few moments to share her way of making brisket. In our modern age, email letters aren’t quite as pretty as handwritten ones – but the sentiment is there nonetheless. My dad has hung onto her correspondence for over a decade and a half. I discovered it recently, tucked inside one of his favorite cookbooks.

Although it requires two days to make, it is very simple and involves just a few ingredients. I used grass-fed beef from the farmers market and a red wine blend called Sheep Thrills for the fun pun. Also, Annie cooks like James Beard recommends – with your intuition – so she doesn’t specify in her recipe exactly how much seasoning to use. In the directions, I share my method, but you may want to add more or less depending on your preference.

Annie’s Wine Soaked Beef Brisket

4-5lb beef brisket ( I used a 3.5 lb grass-fed beef brisket)

4 tablespoons butter (only necessary if using grass-fed beef)

6-7 onions

4 stalks celery

2 bay leaves

2 cups red wine

Onion Powder

Garlic Powder

Celery Salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the brisket from the packaging and let rest on the counter for 45 minutes to 1 hour. If you are using frozen grass-fed beef make sure that it has completely thawed in the fridge before beginning this recipe. Do not trim the fat from the brisket.

Seasonings with dots of butter on top before the flip to brown the other side.

In an ovenproof pan (preferably one that has a lid) over medium high heat, add the butter (but only if using grass-fed beef, otherwise omit the butter). Generously sprinkle each side of the meat with the onion and garlic powders and the celery salt (I did about five passes on each side with each of these seasonings). Brown the brisket, fat-side down, for 5 minutes on each side.

Roughly chop the onions and the celery and add them to the brisket pan.

Pour in the red wine and add the bay leaves. Cover and bake in oven for 2 to 3 hours or until the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees. (Note: Grass-fed beef cooks faster then grain-fed beef, so watch the temperature and time closely.  My 3.5 lb brisket came out exactly at the 2 hour mark.)

Let the brisket cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight it in the same pan that you cooked it in so that all the juices can soak back up into the meat.

The next day, remove the pan from the fridge and scoop off the top layer of fat.

Remove the onions and celery to a blender and mix until well combined. This will form a thin au jus style gravy which is delicious for dipping.

Transfer the au jus to a small saucepan and warm over medium heat. Next, thinly slice the brisket and serve cold or at room temperature alongside the au jus and/or with your favorite condiments like mustard, mayo or horseradish.

This style of brisket is perfect for French Dip style sandwiches served on crusty rolls. It also travels well for spring-time picnics and outdoor family gatherings. In Annie’s house it is a staple for many Jewish holiday celebrations.  Simple fare with a collaborative past, that’s the brisket in all its wonderful ways.

There is something lovely about Annie’s recipe that ties all the historical elements of the holiday into one tidy package. With its Irish and Jewish heritage,  its international transmittance and Annie’s New York roots, it feels like this recipe really embraces the spirit of the holiday. The parallels are endless. The recipe was written on a boat in the 2000’s featuring a food that was once eaten by sailors in the 1700’s. Annie lived in New York during the 20th century. The immigrants who helped perfect this style of cooking lived in New York in the 19th century. Annie is Jewish. The butchers who sold brisket cuts to the Irish in NYC were Jewish. Annie uses brisket to feed her family on Jewish holidays. The Irish-American community uses brisket to celebrate their national Catholic holiday.

St. Patrick’s Day isn’t only for the Irish – it’s for everyone in America who hand a hand in building a country where people and food worked together to create new things and new traditions in a new land. Cheers to foods that continue to bring people together in surprising ways. And cheers to Annie for sharing her delicious brisket recipe.  Hope this St. Patrick’s Day is your most festive one yet!

Summer Dinner with Sunset: Cold Roast Beef with Whipped Horseradish circa 1962

In 2018, a sunset celebrates its 120th birthday. No, it’s not the anniversary of the blushing pastel sky that shadows overhead just before night (that’s as old as time).  And it is not the commemoration of Billy Wilder’s movie Sunset Blvd (that was 1950) nor the anniversary of the actual naming of the boulevard known as Sunset (that was the early 1900’s).  Instead, we are talking about the kind of sunset that stacks up on your coffee table – Sunset Magazine – one of the oldest, longest running magazines in American publishing history.

For over a century, this West Coast-centric lifestyle publication has been entertaining readers with outdoor recreation, travel, home design, gardening and food-focused articles steeped in the natural beauty of the United States’ Pacific side. Originally produced in 1898 to dispel myths about wild, wooly California, Sunset magazine was created as a marketing and promotional piece for Southern Pacific Railways. Its goal was to encourage tourists to buy land in California so the railway could profit in transportation, tourism, and land ownership sales.  By highlighting the natural beauty of the scenic coastline, the agreeable climate and the sophisticated resort towns of Southern California, in particular, early readers were introduced to the artistic side of the state through nature photography, regional literature, and poetic musings.

Sunset Magazine then, in 1898 (first issue!) and now (the current issue July, 2017)

The up and down decades of the 20th century brought many changes to the magazine’s content, format, and layout but throughout its long life,  Sunset has always inspired readers to get outside and enjoy the natural landscape. The recipe we are featuring today involves just that – a nod towards a relaxed dinner geared for outdoor ease and feast enough for a dozen family members and friends.   It is a perfect packer for the picnic basket or a set-it-and-leave-it sort of arrangement that yields plenty of time for firefly watching or sprinkler swimming or whatever your favorite summer pastimes include.  It is a cold roast beef, cooked early in the amiable hours of the day,  and then put away to chill in the fridge until hungry appetites demand to be fed.

The recipe comes from the 1962 Dinner Party Cook Book compiled by the editorial staff of Sunset Magazine. This very cool collection features a wide assortment of party menu recipes that coincide with big and small occasions throughout the year. Birthday parties, graduations, theme night dinners, and holidays are all tackled with a wealth of ingenuity and imagination in the menu planning department. Our cold roast beef fell under the theme of an Easy Summer Dinner, combining a selection of dishes that were cool to the palate and required little heating (other than baking the roast).

Temperatures have been heat-wavish here in the South reaching 100 degrees for the past week with even higher heat index numbers.  This Easy Summer Dinner was just what we needed. The ease comes in a 24-hour red wine, onion and herb marinade and then a quick pop into the oven for 2-3 hours of cooking. Once it comes out of the oven it cools on the counter before heading to the fridge where it chills until dinner time.  The benefits of this dish are many because the roast is large – big enough to feed up to 18 people – which means you could have a lot of leftovers depending on your party size. Here in the Vintage Kitchen, that meant practically a week of additional dinners plus extra for the freezer. From just one roast we made fajitas, beef pot pie, steak salad, stuffed peppers plus two extra nights of the actual recipe. Easy summer dinner indeed!

The recipe calls for a 5-6 lb rump roast which we substituted for a 4 lb. grass-fed beef rump roast.  We like grass-fed beef the best because it’s healthier for humans and because it is a better lifestyle for the cows who forage on open pastures eating only natural grasses instead of being lumped together on feedlots eating only grain. If you try this recipe and incorporate grass-fed beef too, there are a couple of factors that need to be altered. Grass-fed beef cooks faster since it is much leaner than grain-fed beef so it’s important to pay attention to the roasting time.  Instructions for both types of beef are included with the recipe here, depending on your own preferences. Other than that, this very easy dinner is as promised – very easy.  And the whipped horseradish is the perfect accompaniment so definitely don’t forget it.

Sunset’s Beef A La Mode

(serves 12-18)

5 – 6 lb. rump roast (or 5-6 lb. grass-fed beef rump roast)

2 cups dry red table wine

1 onion, sliced

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme

1/4 teaspoon crushed whole black pepper

1 bay leaf

Flour seasoned with salt and pepper

1/4 cup beef fat, shortening or oil

1 cup tomato puree

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup grated horseradish

Place the roast in a large bowl and cover with the wine, onion, thyme, black pepper and bay leaf. Marinate for 24 hours in the fridge,  turning a few times throughout the marinade process.

After 24 hours, remove the meat from the marinade, setting the marinade aside for future use.  Let the beef warm up to room temperature before patting it dry and dusting it all over with the flour/salt/pepper mixture.

In a Dutch Oven brown meat on all sides in the beef fat, shortening or oil. If you are using grass-fed beef do this step in a hot skillet with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sear meat about a minute per side on all sides.

Seared on all sides and ready for the oven.

Pour the marinade and the tomato puree in the Dutch oven, cover and bake at 350 degrees for 3-4 hours or until fork-tender. If you are using grass-fed beef, after searing, place in Dutch oven or a large casserole dish, add the marinade and tomato puree and top the roast with three pats of butter. Cover and bake at 425 for 20 minutes then turn the oven off and keep the roast in there for two hours, being careful to not open the oven door for the entire time.

You want the internal temperature of your roast to be about 135 degrees when finished. Once your roast is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest at room temperature until it is cool. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

While your roast is cooling, in a small bowl, whip together the sour cream, mayonnaise, and horseradish in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Once dinner time arrives, thinly slice the roast beef, arrange on plates and drizzle with the horseradish mixture.

The original 1962 recipe included side dishes of hominy, watercress salad and sesame seed crusted toast points. While those sound lovely we skipped those dishes and served our grass fed roast beef with a simple side salad of mixed greens tossed in a homemade lime vinaigrette. It was simple and complimentary and easy. The words of the day!

If you time your dinner and your day right, you’ll be able to experience two sunsets at once. One a feast for your eyes, the other a feast for your belly. Hope you find this vintage recipe as effortless as we did.

Explore 61 other 1960’s themed menus in The Dinner Party Cook Book available in the Vintage Kitchen Shop here.

New to grass-fed beef cooking? Visit the website of our favorite grass-fed beef vendor at the Nashville Farmers Market and learn more.

Cheers to easy summer nights and to the good friends that fill them.