The truth about brisket is that your bubbe’s is probably the best. It’s probably better than my bubbe’s, and better than your neighbor’s bubbe’s, and while no two brisket recipes are the same, we’re all right when we say our briskets are the best. Past that, there aren’t a whole lot of definitives — even the terminology can get a little shady — which is exactly why putting five brisket aficionados on stage to talk about the comfort meat was more than fascinating.
At Tuesday night’s panel discussion at the Center for Jewish History led by Mitchell David, Executive Vice President of the James Beard Foundation, and organized by culinary curator Naama Shefi, so much was revealed about the dish that no Jewish feast is complete without.
Like many popular Jewish foods, brisket worked its way into the cuisine because of its low cost. “Brisket is implicitly kosher since it’s from the front of the animal,” said New York Times reporter Julia Moskin, “and it was cheap because anything that takes a long time to cook and that can’t be grilled has challenges, especially in a restaurant.” Davis added that while the ribs are also from the front of the animal, their popularity in Jewish cuisine didn’t quite reach that of brisket’s because they could be sold for more money. Daniel Delaney, owner of the barely month-old BrisketTown, in Williamsburg, attested that this was the case in the Texas culture as well, where butchers who emigrated from Germany and Czechoslovakia had trouble selling the slow-cooking cut of meat and ultimately created a way to dry smoke it and preserve it.
If there is one teaching that I remember most from my summer camp Shabbats, it’s that part of being a Jew is challenging your beliefs about God: evaluating and re-evaluating your relationship with God, discussing, and possibly questioning a supreme being’s existence. Whether or not you agree with this idea, it appears that a similar evolving principle can be applied to Jewish cuisine. Simply mentioning the term “Jewish food” often sparks a heated debate and questions arise: Is there such a thing? Where exactly does it come from? What defines it? Is it kosher? Can I eat it with chopsticks?
On Tuesday night at the New School in Manhattan, four food writers and culture academics took part in a panel discussion titled “Jewish Cuisines: The Local and the Global.” Unsurprisingly, a large portion of the time was spent defining “Jewish food,” and even less surprisingly, each had their own unique interpretation.