Why We Eat Brisket on Rosh Hashanah

(Image credit: Martha Stewart)

From Texas to Tel Aviv, just about everyone loves brisket — the flavorful cut of beef found on the breast or lower chest of the cow. And what’s not to like? The slowly-cooked meat is exceptionally tender and moist with caramelized edges perfect for nibbling straight from the pan.

There are many different ways to prepare brisket, from Texas-style barbecued brisket, to Irish corned beef. But I grew up eating Jewish-style brisket, particularly during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. According to Stephanie Pierson, author of The Brisket Book: A Love Story with Recipes, Jewish-style brisket is “simple, familiar, and always braised” — the kind of dish that’s so intuitive, “you don’t have to look up the recipe each time you make it.” It is Jewish comfort food at its finest.

Poverty Cuisine & the Brisket Tradition

I was fortunate enough to take brisket’s appearance on our family’s holiday table for granted. But, according to Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, the dish began as poverty cuisine. “The often-impoverished Jews of eastern Europe could rarely afford to ‘live high on the cow’ — to buy the more tender cuts from the rib and chuck. [So] they learned how to make do with the cheaper, less desirable parts,” he writes.

Over time as people continued to cook them, dishes like brisket became revered in their own right, making them traditional and desirable staples of the holiday table.

Brisket Many Ways

Today, Jewish home cooks tend to keep a tried and true brisket recipe in their back pocket. Some people prefer it flavored with tomato sauce, while others like it sweetened with brown sugar or a cranberry sauce glaze. Still others prefer to take a minimalist approach, using little more than garlic, onion, and bay leaves to perfume the meat. The Settlement Cook Book from 1901, Marks writes, included six different recipes for brisket, including one made with sauerkraut and another with a sweet and sour sauce.

Pierson said that to her, “the taste of Rosh Hashanah brisket can range from savory to herb-infused, to one that has been braised in a big, bold wine that adds layers of subtle flavor.” No matter how you slice it (across the grain, of course!), a plate of brisket is a standout highlight of Rosh Hashanah table.

4 Brisket Recipes to Get You Started

If you have never made brisket before, it is an easy and forgiving dish. Here are three recipes to try and fall in love with!

How does your family typically make brisket? Feel free to share tips in the comments below!

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