Nach Waxman's Brisket Recipe
Mar 13, 2023
In 1989, six years after Kitchen Arts & Letters opened, bestselling authors Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins released an 800-plus page opus called The New Basics. The pair were enormously popular because of their Silver Palate Cookbook and Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook which drew on the food of a takeout shop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
The New Basics was their third bestseller together, and in it they wrote:
“How thrilled Julee was the day Nach Waxman opened Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York–a bookstore full of her obsession: cookbooks! And with an owner as passionate about the subject as she is. We’re grateful to Nach for doing us all such a favor.”
These kind words came in an introduction to a recipe called Nach Waxman's Brisket of Beef. Nach was quoted as saying:
"This is a traditional Eastern European dish of the utmost simplicity but with a flavor so distinctive and vigorous that few can believe how elementary it is or how few ingredients it contains."
This was the first time the recipe was published, but far from the last. In the days before social media, The New Basics was better than any Instagram post. An endorsement from Julee and Sheila meant something. The recipe spread like wildfire.
A Seder staple
Thereafter, every time Passover, as well as Rosh Hashanah, the occasional Thanksgiving, and even Christmas rolled around, cooks would call to ask Nach questions about the recipe.
It wasn't difficult to make. It actually tasted better if you made it the day before and reheated it for guests. It easily served many people. And it had fewer than ten ingredients. So what kind of questions could there be?
Simply put, its approach was unconventional in several ways. People wondered if he really meant them to do what he said. He told them to remove the brisket from the pot halfway through, slice it, and then put it back. Could they skip that step? What about adding more carrots? Maybe some broth? A little sugar?
The answers were always no.
New Wave Waxman fans
Then in 2011, Stephanie Pierson published The Brisket Book: a Love Story with Recipes. In it she shared recipes from brisket cooks such as Joan Nathan, Christopher Kimball, John Shields, Daniel Boulud, Anita Lo–and Nach. And a new wave of Waxman brisket fans arose.
In Stevie’s book (for that is how we knew the inimitable Ms. Pierson, pictured above with Nach in a photo by Roger Sherman) Nach paid tribute to his mother’s and his mother-in-law’s recipes, from each of whom he had adapted elements of his technique.
By 2015, when Kristen Miglore included Nach's brisket recipe in Food52 Genius Recipes, she reported that not only was it rumored to be the most googled of all brisket recipes, but that it had been served at the White House for Barack and Michelle Obama's first Passover Seder. (The image at the top of this blog post is from Genius Recipes.)
There are tributes to the recipe all over the internet now, and it seems like nearly every mention of brisket uses Nach's recipe as a benchmark.
Sadly, Nach is no longer here to answer questions about his brisket recipe. Stevie Pierson has died, and so has Sheila Lukins. (We hear regularly from Julee Rosso, though!)
If you choose to make this very flavorful, very satisfying pot roast for any of your holidays, we hope you’ll think of all of these generous people who were happy to share the pleasure of making it.
Nach Waxman’s Brisket of Beef
(adapted from The New Basics)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Trim the brisket of most of its fat, so that only a thin layer remains. Dust it lightly with flour, and sprinkle with the ground pepper.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy flameproof casserole (Nach used an enameled cast iron Le Creuset). Add the brisket and brown on both sides over medium-high heat until some crisp spots appear on the surface.
“Browning is crucial for taste. You want a nice crisp brown on the meat,” Nach said.
Transfer the brisket to a platter. Keeping the heat on medium-high, add the onions to the casserole and stir, scraping up the browned particles left from the meat, which will “make the onions brown in a way they never would otherwise."
Cook until the onions have softened and developed a handsome brown color, 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove the casserole from the heat and place the brisket, along with any juices that have accumulated, on top of the onions. Spread the tomato paste over the brisket as if you were icing a cake. Sprinkle with pepper and the kosher salt. Add the garlic and the carrot, and cover tightly. Place the casserole on the middle rack of the over and bake for 1½ hours.
Remove the casserole from the oven and transfer the meat to a carving board. Cut it into slices, ¼- to ⅛-inch thick. Return the slices to the pot, overlapping them at an angle so that you can see a bit of the top edge of each slice (in effect, reassembling the brisket, slightly slanted).
Correct the seasoning if necessary, and if absolutely necessary add 2-3 teaspoons of water to the casserole.
Cover, and return the casserole to the oven. Cook until the meat is brown and fork-tender, 1¾ to 2 hours longer.
Slice the carrot and transfer the roast, onions, juice, and carrot slices to a heated platter to serve.
The New Basics reports that this serves 8 people, but by the time of The Brisket Book the suggestion was that 12 people could enjoy it. If that seems overwhelming for your purposes, bear in mind that Nach told Stevie,”It is better the next day; not only does it freeze well, it actually improved with freezing.”
We welcome your comments on Nach's recipe below.