Tami Rona, a spunky grandma from New Jersey who is active in her synagogue’s sisterhood and works as a travel consultant, shared with me a few of her family’s favorite dishes. Her brisket is locally famous, and no holiday celebration is complete without it.
Rona learned this the hard way: “One year, I decided to try something different and special, so I bought lamb. It cost me a fortune — this was years ago, and I must have spent $80 on the meat alone. My children and grandchildren arrived and, when I served dinner, it was a disaster. The lamb was terrible, everyone was disappointed to miss the famous brisket and, to this day, I have not lived it down. Every holiday dinner starts, with ‘Remember the year Grandma served that awful lamb?’ Now I don’t mess with the menu — brisket and potatoes, and everyone is happy.”
Rona learned the recipe from her late husband’s cousin Eva. One night, Eva served an eye of round with this delicious gravy. Rona asked for the recipe, thought it would be better with brisket, added some of her own techniques and flairs, and the rest is history.
Tami Rona’s Brisket
This is an old-school brisket — pantry ingredients, nothing fancy, but always a hit.
1 4-pound brisket
2 large Spanish onions, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon oil
1 can golden mushroom soup (Imagine brand in the carton is pareve)
1 envelope onion soup mix
1 soup can of water
Generous sprinkling of pepper
Heat your oven to 325 F.
Coat a large skillet with oil, and sear the brisket on all sides.
Remove it from the pan and cook the onions, scraping up browned bits, until the onions are soft and beginning to turn golden.
Place the onions in the bottom of a roasting pan, place the seared meat on top and generously coat it with pepper.
Pour one can of soup, one can of water and one envelope of soup mix over the brisket, cover, and cook it in the oven for 3 hours. Turn the meat over every hour to ensure even cooking and to avoid it drying out.
When done, cool the meat slightly, remove it from the pan and slice it thinly on the diagonal across the grain. Pour the gravy and the sliced meat into a pot, and refrigerate overnight.
Heat the meat on very low heat, simmering for 2 hours, on the stove, and serve.
Tami’s smashed potatoes
In her own words: “These potatoes are always a hit. They are wonderful with the brisket, but I served them at a barbecue last summer, and all I heard about was the potatoes. Forget all the other things I made — everyone was going on about these potatoes!”
You can make these with just olive oil if a vegan or pareve dish is desired, or you can do a mix of melted butter and oil for added flavor and richness if that conforms with your menu.
Rona uses the spice assortment described below but says you can get creative; if you have a particular flavor combo or spice blend that you like, go for it.
4 pounds small potatoes (size of a golf ball)
4 tablespoon olive oil, or 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
Heat oven to 400 F.
Place the potatoes in a large pot of salted water and bring it to a boil.
Simmer for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are just done — soft but not falling apart. Drain.
In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix the oil, butter (if using) and spices.
Line a large baking tray with nonstick foil or parchment, and spread out the potatoes in a single layer.
Using the bottom of a cup, press the potatoes once to “smash” them.
Pour the oil mixture over the potatoes.
Bake for about 45 minutes until crispy. PJC
Keri White is the food columnist for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication, where this first appeared.