One Hanukkah, Two Briskets, Dozens of Latkes

Dec. 2013 UPDATE: I repeated this same menu at my Hanukkah party this year.  Making the latkes at the last minute was great in that they tasted amazing, BUT I did spend half the party in the kitchen, so I will have to come up with another strategy. Of the two briskets, the one with ketchup was the most popular one, though I still prefer the one with onions.

(Almost) every year I hold a Hanukkah party for my Jewish and semi-Jewish friends.  It’s my excuse to make latkes and socialize with people I may not see every day.  My Hanukkah parties used to be more involved, but getting my house clean is complicated enough nowadays, so this party had 3 menu items only: latkes, brisket and store-bought doughnuts.

For the latkes I used my old trusty recipe from epicurious.com.  They couldn’t be simpler or more delicious. I served them with store-bought sour cream and apple sauce.

For the brisket, I decided to go with a pretty traditional ketchup-based recipe for Jewish Style Sweet and Sour Brisket that I found at allrecipes.com.  It got great reviews and was also very simple.  I made it using half of the 15lb brisket Mike had bought (which I thought was excessive for my dinner party), but after I removed it from the oven it had shrunk so much that I didn’t think those 7.5lbs would serve 10 adults and 10 children (though I personally don’t believe children ever eat actual food at parties).  So I decided to use the rest of the brisket and cook it in the morning using a different recipe (which would have to be simple and only use ingredients I had at home).  Fortunately, I came across this recipe for Beer-Braised Brisket with Onions, which fit both requirement.  Both briskets turned out great.  I received lots and lots of compliments from my friends, some who even dared say they might be better than their own versions.  Of the two, I think I prefer the latter, specially because the leftovers kept getting better and better as the days went by.

Now, the secret of the briskets is, of course, slooooow cooking.  Don’t overcook, however, as it may become too soft to cut.  As with any braise, resting overnight helps fortify the flavors.  And make sure you wait until it’s cold to slice, and then reheat in the sauce. —

Latkes

The secret to great latkes is to make them right before serving them.  I see it as a two-person operation.  One peels them, while the other one shreds them.  Once they are ready to cook, one person can fry multiple batches (it helps to have plenty of frying pans), while the other one drains and serves them.  I did find, however, that if the person doing the frying is 8-years old, you may end up with lots of broken latkes and bad heat control. Make sure to shred the potatoes into a bowl of cold water.  This will slow down the oxidation process considerably. Also, drain the latkes on a cooling rack rather than on paper towels, to avoid them getting soggy.  Finally, make sure you have LOTS of olive oil at hand 🙂 Ingredients per 2  guests

  • 1 lb. potatoes (3 cups shredded potatoes)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • olive oil for frying

Directions Peel potatoes, and shred them into a bowl full of water.  Drain the potatoes and place them in the middle of a thick towel.  Add the chopped onions, roll and squeeze – you are trying to remove as much liquid as possible.  Transfer the potato mixture into a large bowl and mix in the egg(s) and salt. Heat a thick layer of olive oil in each frying pan over medium-high heat.  Scoop about 2 Tablespoons worth of mixture with your hand, squeeze to remove some of the liquid and drop onto the pan.  Flatten with a spatula.  Fry on each side until golden.

Adapted from this epicurious.com recipe.


Jewish Style Sweet and Sour Brisket

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 8 lbs. beef brisket
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 4 onions, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. salt

 Directions

Remove excess fat from brisket.

Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Put brisket and brown on all sides.  Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer until tender, turning occasionally, for about  3 hours.  Alternatively, place in a 300F oven for about the same amount of time.

Remove brisket from sauce and let cool, reserving the sauce.  Slice the brisket against the grain, and place in a baking pan (glass preferably).  Pour sauce on it, cover and refrigerate overnight.  Remove excess fat from the surface and reheat in a 300F oven, or transfer to a pot and reheat on the stove.

Adapted from this allrecipes.com recipe


Beer-Braised Brisket with Onions

  • 8 lbs. beef brisket
  • kosher salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 lbs onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 20 oz beer
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Better than Bouillon beef base or 1 1/2 cubes beef bouillon, crumbled
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Directions

Pat brisket dry, remove excess fat (though making sure a thin layer remains), and sprinkle with Kosher salt and pepper.

Heat oil over medium-high heat in an oven-safe pot or skillet large and deep enough to accommodate the brisket.  Add brisket and brown on all sides.  Remove and set aside.

Turn heat to medium and add onions and bay leaves.  Cook until golden, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.  Turn off heat.

Remove about half of the onions from the pot and set aside.  Flatten the rest and lay the brisket on top of them.  Top with the remaining onions.  Add the beer, beef base or bouillon cube and balsamic vinegar, turn on heat to high and bring to a boil.  Turn off heat, cover the pot and place in the oven for about 3 hours.  Remove and let the brisket cool in the sauce, uncovered, for about half an hour.  Remove the brisket and slice.  Place in a deep serving plate, season the sauce with salt and pepper and pour over the brisket.  Serve.

Adapted from this epicurious.com recipe.

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