Braised brisket is warming, cozy, rich and hearty, a perfect wintry meal to serve when temperatures plunge and snow piles up.
But what about in the spring, during Passover? No matter how pink the tulips or yellow the forsythia, when Seder-celebrating cooks plan their menu, a stodgy brown brisket is almost always on it. It’s as traditional to the meal as gefilte fish and matzo ball soup, a gravy-covered centerpiece year after year.
It doesn’t have to be that way; there are plenty of other entrées that will bolster you through those four glasses of wine. But even if a platter of tender brisket is as central to your family’s holiday happiness as matzo toffee, you can still try something new.
This year, with Passover falling so late in April, I’m offering a brisket recipe that’s brighter and fresher than anything your grandmother may have done with her carrots and onion soup mix, but just as satisfying.
It’s based on the lemon pot roast that my mother used to make, a recipe she got from Edda Servi Machlin’s “The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews.” Machlin’s pot roast recipe called for eye of round as the beef. But my mother always used brisket, which works equally well and seems more fitting for the Passover table.
I made several changes to my mother’s recipe, both to deepen the flavor and to lighten it up.
The first was to sear the brisket, letting the browned layer at the bottom of the pot add richness to the sauce. Those browned bits are dissolved into the gravy as the brisket cooks, helped along by the acid in the wine and orange and lemon juices.
As for the lightening up, I do that in two ways, both in the brisket pot as it cooks, and on the plate as garnish.
In the pot, there’s the citrus juice and wine to add tanginess, spiked with loads of grated zest and garlic, all of which cuts the perceived heaviness of the meat.
And for serving, the tender slices of meat are topped with a jumble of spring greens dressed with even more citrus. Use whatever good baby greens you can find. I love a mix of lettuces and herbs with some slivered radicchio tossed in for vibrancy and crunch.
It’s a new style of brisket, all decked out in the colors of spring.