Everything you ever wanted to know about brisket and more

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Award-winning writer, TV host and barbecue guru Steven Raichlen focuses on a meat beloved by Jews in his newest cookbook, “The Brisket Chronicles” (Workman Publishing, $30).

Funny thing, as we learn in this homage to brisket, but the rich, flavorful cut of beef is also beloved by Italians, who venerate their dish bollito misto, and the Vietnamese, who eat it in pho, and in Kashir, where it’s nihari gosht, not to mention in the Caribbean, New Zealand, Ireland, France and in many other nations.

Who knew? Raichlen knew, from his travels across the globe, and now he has collected all that knowledge in the new cookbook, subtitled “How to barbecue, braise, smoke and cure the world’s most versatile cut of meat.”

That’s a tall order, but the book delivers that and much more, starting in Chapter 1, “A Crash Course in Brisket.” Here, a chatty narrative tells you everything you need to know, from where on the steer the brisket is located (it’s the chest), the many differences between a flat cut and a point cut, the history, the physics, how to trim, the best cookware, various outdoor cooking methods, how to carve, brisket terms  – and way more. There’s even printed – and highly recommended – the oldest-known brisket recipe, from 1769.

But let’s start with Raichlen’s reasons for devoting an entire cookbook to one cut of beef.

 “Well,” he writes, “first there’s the flavor and texture. Like all well-exercised muscles, brisket possesses an extraordinarily rich, soulful, beefy flavor. …

“Then there’s its versatility. You can braise it, boil it, bake it, and, yes, even grill it. …

“Price is a factor too, and while brisket costs a lot more than it used to, it’s still a relative bargain compared with, say, prime rib or beef tenderloin.”

Of course, to most Americans, brisket is best known as St. Patrick’s Day corned beef, the deli meats corned beef, pastrami and Montreal smoked meat, and the king of them all, Texas barbecued brisket. But Raichlen introduces his readers to mouthwatering brisket recipes from across the globe. Then, he guides readers through dozens of preparations.

As engaging as I found the “chronicles” part of this book, I wasn’t crazy about the presentation of recipes. Some have photos; some don’t. Many are on two pages, and you have to flip the page to see the rest of the recipe. 

That said, the recipes are detailed and easy to follow, with plenty of helpful hints and dazzling variety. There are recipes for appetizers, entrees, sides, salads, breakfast sandwiches, brisket tots, kettle corn with crispy brisket, sandwiches, cured meats – even a brisket dessert.

Raichlen also tells of his earliest memories of brisket, at Sabbath dinners, and gives the recipes for Aunt Annette’s Holiday Brisket and Jewish Deli Brisket.

So, whether you’re seeking to create the ultimate Shabbat brisket or to learn different ways to cook this cut, you’ll be happy with this book.

CYNTHIA BENJAMIN is an editor, writer and chef. She is a member of Congregation B’nai Israel, in Woonsocket.