Sweet and Tart Brisket and Fig Tsimmis
Recipe and photo by Tami Ganeles Weiser
Prep Time: 1 hour Chilling Time: 48 hours Cook Time: 14 hours
This dish is Ashkenazi in culinary technique, and Sephardic and Mizrachi in flavor. Now, I’m not big on fusion cooking, so fear not: this is a not mix-up mash-up whatsoever. This brisket recipe is indeed the classic “low-and-slow” braised beef brisket cooked with vegetables and dried fruits. (The long cooking time makes it the ideal do-ahead; start it the night before or early in the day that you plan to serve.) Most American Ashkenazi Jews are familiar with tsimmis (also spelled tzimmes, but it’s Yiddish, not English, so spell it however you like) as a side dish—a honey-sweetened amalgam of root vegetables that invariably contains carrots and dried fruits (read “prunes and raisins” here). But meat-based tsimmis is an equally time-honored alternative.
For this recipe, I wanted to incorporate something that the wandering journey of Jewish cooking has shared across generations and locales. From India to Morocco, from Persia to Suriname, and from New York to Sydney, when it comes to “Jewish” cuisine, many recipes showcase sour and tart tastes that balance the sweet. This recipe isn’t just about the brisket and brown sugar, Ashkenazi favorites, but pomegranates and ras al hanout spice mix from Sephardic and Mizrachi traditions, and luscious figs, which crisscross borders.
I like to design recipes that pay homage to a place and time or to whatever and whoever inspires me. This recipe is inspired by understanding the value of journeys. I often talk and teach about looking to the journeys of all peoples, and yes, that certainly includes their foodways. This dish is designed for Passover, when we celebrate the journey to freedom from slavery. But Passover is also a time to consider personal journeys. No matter how fortunate we are—and I certainly am—life is never just sweet. It is spicy, sour, tart, and sometimes terribly bitter. (For this year’s holiday, I’m saving the bitter for bitter greens in a salad—an arugula or watercress salad never had a better partner than tsimmis. “Bitter” deserves to be considered alone and hopefully, we all have little of it.) This tsimmis bursts with bold flavors that will excite palates, but it also serves up a nuanced meaning. To me, that’s deliciously Passover.
1 (6- to 6½-pound) second cut beef brisket (see Kitchen Tips)
2 tablespoons Ras al Hanout, Savory or excellent commercial blend
1½ tablespoons salt, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large or 3 medium sweet onions, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces (about 2½ cups)
8 to 10 cloves garlic, peeled and halved, any green centers discarded
1 cup fig vinegar or any fruit vinegar
2 cups Brown Veal Stock or best-quality low-sodium beef broth
2 cups pomegranate molasses, divided
½ cup dark brown sugar
1½ pounds fresh carrots, peeled and cut into 2- to 2 ½-inch pieces
2½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2- to 2½-inch pieces
1 pound fresh parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 pound dried California Mission figs (about 1 cups), stemmed
1 pound dried California Golden figs (about 1 cups), stemmed
½ pound chopped dried mango (about ½ cup of ½-inch pieces)
- Preheat the oven to 250°F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets or casserole dishes with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Pat the brisket dry and cut into 2 pieces, against the grain (see Kitchen Tips), so that they will fit into a large cast-iron pot or enamel-coated cast-iron pot. Rub the the meat on both sides with the ras al hanout spice mixture and 1 tablespoon of the salt. Place on one of the prepared baking sheets or casserole dishes.
- Heat the oil in that cast-iron large pot over high heat until it shimmers. Place one piece of the seasoned brisket into it, fat side down, and cook for 1½ to 2 minutes, until browned on one side (no need to turn). With tongs, transfer to the second (clean) baking sheet. Place the second piece of brisket, fat side down, into the pot to cook for 1½ to 2 minutes. Transfer to the baking sheet with the first piece. Reserve the pot and its contents.
- Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions to the pot, and cook, stirring, for 7 to 9 minutes, until they are translucent and the edges have browned.
- Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 15 to 20 seconds. Add the vinegar and stir well, scraping up all the flavorful browned bits at the bottom of the pot, and being very careful of the powerful fumes that will rise when you add the vinegar. Cook for 1½ to 2½ minutes, until the mixture comes to a boil, and add the stock, half the pomegranate molasses, and the sugar and stir very well. Cook for about 2 minutes, until the sugar begins to dissolve. Turn the heat off and return the brisket pieces to the pot. Cover tightly with heavy-duty foil and then a lid, and place in the oven to cook for 2 hours.
- With oven mitts, remove the pot from the oven. Uncover and discard the foil. Add the carrots, sweet potatoes, and dried fruits, cover tightly with fresh foil, and replace the lid. Reduce the oven temperature to 225°F, return the pot to the oven, and cook for 8 to 9 more hours (this works great overnight!!!), until the meat is fork tender and the fruit is very soft and plump.
- With kitchen towels or oven mitts, carefully remove the pot from the oven and let stand, still covered, for about 20 minutes, until cool to the touch. Refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours and up to 3 days.
- About 2 hours before serving, preheat the oven to 265°F. Remove the tsimmis from the refrigerator, uncover, and discard the foil. Skim all the visible fat from the top and around the edges and discard. Cover with fresh foil and heat in the oven for 2 hours, or until thoroughly warmed.
- While the tsimmis is heating, line a fine-mesh sieve with 2 layers of cheesecloth.
- When the tsimmis is warmed through, with kitchen towels or oven mitts, carefully remove the pot from the oven. Discard the foil and transfer the brisket to a work surface. Cut the brisket across the grain into ⅛- to ¼-inch thick slices and place on a serving platter. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the fruit and vegetables onto the platter.
- Ladle the cooking liquid through the prepared fine-mesh sieve over tsimmis. Drizzle the brisket with the remaining pomegranate molasses, and serve immediately.
- Most people these days like to buy the less fatty first cut of the beef brisket. This recipe is a great way to use the less expensive second cut. Its higher fat content will up the flavor of the stew—and don’t worry; the fat will cook into the stew and rise to the top, and can be skimmed off.
- Meat is typically cut against the grain to make it more tender. The grain refers to the muscle fibers that are visible as tiny parallel lines in the meat. Positioning your knife at a 90° angle to these lines and cutting accordingly is cutting against the grain.