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Recipes and Stories

21 December 2011: Joan Levy’s Brisket a la Bercy

Joan's Brisket a la Bercy, handsomely photographed by John Carrington in her beautiful downtown Savannah dining room

To commemorate this first day of Chanukah, my regular column for the Savannah Morning News was all about the traditions of this lovely eight day festival of light, especially golden-fried latkes. For some reason, the web version included ONLY the latke recipe, even though the thumbnail for the piece was the picture of this dish. Here's Joan's delectable recipe.

Because man should not live by latkes alone (even though you may want to), slow-cooked brisket is another Chanukah tradition for many families. This is friend and great cook Joan Levy’s recipe, which she first shared in The Savannah Cookbook (Gibbs/Smith). The great thing about it (aside from its delicious flavor) is that it not only can be made ahead, it’s even better the second day: it slices more evenly when cold and the luscious sauce keeps it moist and tender in the reheating.

Joan Levy is a born and bred Savannahian, descended directly from Revolutionary War patriot Benjamin Sheftall—and you do not get much more old Savannah than that. Joan’s cooking, while infused with those traditions, is deeply colored by the years that she and her husband Gary lived in New Orleans, and by extensive traveling all over the world.

Serves 4 to 6
3 pounds beef brisket
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons seasoning salt
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup chili sauce
1½ cups cider vinegar
1 cup chopped celery leaves
2 medium yellow onions, trimmed, split lengthwise, peeled, and thinly sliced

1. Rinse the beef under cold water, pat dry, and put it in a shallow glass, porcelain, or stainless steel container. Stir together the salts, sugar, chili sauce, and vinegar and spread it on all sides of the meat. Cover and marinate overnight, refrigerated.

2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 325° F. Lift the beef from the marinade and put it in a covered roaster. Pour the marinade over it and scatter the celery and onions over it. Roast slowly, uncovered, for about 2 hours, basting occasionally. Add a little water to the pan juices if it begins to get too dry.

3. After 2 hours, cover and roast slowly for about 3 hours more, or until the meat is fork tender. Let it rest at least 30 minutes before slicing across the grain about ¼-inch thick. It is even better to let it cool completely and chill it, well covered, overnight, and slice it while still quite cold.

4. When you are ready to serve the brisket, strain the pan drippings, reserving the onions, and reheat gently over medium heat. When it is simmering, whisk in the dissolved cornstarch a little at a time until it is lightly thickened. Simmer about 2 minutes. Put the brisket and onions back in the roasting pan and pour the gravy over it. Cover tightly, and gently reheat in a slow (300° F.) oven. Serve the brisket drizzled with some of the gravy and garnished with the onions, and pass the remaining gravy separately. Read More 

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10 December 2011: For the Love of Fruitcake

A True Holiday Classic: homemade fruitcake. Photography by John Carrington, from the revised edition Classical Southern Cooking

It may be hard for the jaded comedians of our day to believe, but there actually was a time when fruitcake was well-loved, and got all the respect it really deserved.

Rich with rare and expensive dried and glacéed fruits and nuts, heady with brandy, sherry, and rare spices, it was, until well into the nineteenth century, the ultimate celebration cake for virtually every occasion, even (and especially) weddings, where its fruit-packed crumb symbolized the hope that the marriage itself would be fruitful.

It was, however, at Christmastide that fruitcakes were prized the most. That was partly because their richness befit the exuberance of the season, and partly because they not only kept well, making them the perfect treat to have on hand for drop-in company, but actually got better with age: by Twelfth Night a properly aged fruitcake was even more moist, aromatic, and delicious than it had been on Christmas Day. Read More 

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