A family feast with no clucking
T’S AT this time of year that I start to feel kind of sorry for all my nonJewish neighbours and friends. Just as the nights are drawing in and the temperatures are dropping, which is miserable enough as it is, they have the stress of Christmas. This one 24-hour period becomes an all-consuming obsession.
There are the crowds at shopping centres fighting over tinsel and wrapping, there are delayed deliveries of crucial presents, there are monster birds to cook and awkward office parties to negotiate. And for those unlucky enough not to have families, there is absolutely nothing to do on the day itself except watch mindnumbing Christmas specials of shows you never liked in the first place.
For us, everything is different. Before Chanucah arrives all you need to do is stock up on plenty of cooking oil (enough for eight days at least), buy some chocolate coins for the kids, get in the doughnuts and make sure you have some can- dles for the chanuciah.
My family always has an enormous Chanucah meal. It’s one of my favourites of the year, actually. There are obviously latkes, which need to be fried at the last minute, but the centrepiece is a large piece of salt beef, which comes with a few pickled cucumbers, some coleslaw and rye bread. The meat simmers for three hours on a l ow light and needs little or no attention; there are no canapés or starters to prepare and not a brussels sprout in sight. And if anyone has an iota of spare room after all of that, there is always a doughnut to nibble on.
The only tricky part of the evening is the chanuciah lighting itself. My daughter has always been nervous of candles, particularly multiple small ones on a candelabra. There is an added complication with our chanuciah in that it has a music box attached which plays — ver y cute but once the candles are lit I have to pick up the Chanuciah to wind up the box, while Lucy screams and dives under the table. It’s all I can do to coax her out with the promise of coins. And of course now that she is a teenager, they have to be real rather than chocolate — iTunes vouchers work even better.
Of course, you can buy ready pickled salt beef from your kosher butcher and, if you want a really easy life, you can even buy it cooked — but I like to pickle my own brisket. For the comparatively small effort involved, it does give a disproportionate amount of satisfaction — and the results are great.
Although the process of pickling is not complicated, you do need to think ahead, as it needs a few days. First you need to buy a nice big, preferably fairly fatty piece of brisket of around 2kg. Then make your brine. Take 400g salt, 300g caster sugar, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, eight allspice berries, four bay leaves and 50g saltpetre (this is optional but gives the meat its characteristic pink colour and is available online). Put them all in a pan with four litres of water and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Place your brisket in a large plastic container and pour the brining solution over it. Add a bulb of garlic, seal, refrigerate and leave for four to five days at least. That’s basically it. The meat needs to be fully submerged — so, if necessary, use a plate to weigh it down. Turn over the brisket once a day but otherwise just leave the brine to do its thing.The time will pass quickly enough — you can use it to buy the kids some token gifts and practise singing Then when the waiting is over, take the brisket out of the brine, rinse it thoroughly and place it in a large saucepan filled with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to simmering point.
Skimoff anyscumwhichhasformed on the surface and add a carrot, an onion, a stick of celery and a few peppercorns. Simmer over a low heat for three hours until the meat is tender. If the water is too intensely salty after an hour, add fresh water, bring to the boil again and simmer for another two hours.
Salt beef beatsturkey foreaseof cooking