Reyna Simnegar's Persian father-in-law flatly refuses to use a knife along with his fork when eating meat. It's a fork and spoon when one is dining in the Persian style, so that meat had better be tender, reports the author of the Sephardic kosher cookbook, "Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride" (Feldheim, $34.99).
Meat so tender you could almost eat it with a spoon is one of the hallmarks of a good beef brisket, star of many a Seder table come Passover, which begins at sundown April 18.
"It is so tender because it's kosher meat," Simnegar says of her brisket. Koshered meat is salted before cooking to draw out blood from the flesh.
"When meat is salted beforehand, it is incredibly soft, and the flavor is incredible," she says. Here are other factors in the quest for brisket tenderness:
Method. The brisket, from which pastrami and corned beef are made, is a tough cut from the breast section of the animal. Long braising is the preferred way to cook it.
"The key is slow, long cooking in liquid to make it tender," says Joan Nathan, a Jewish-American cooking authority and author. Cooking a brisket takes a few hours, yes, but Nathan notes it can be pretty much a hands-off process.
"People say you need to baste it every few hours, but I usually forget," says Nathan. Time. How long should your brisket cook? Depends on what you're looking for.
"Some folks love their brisket just falling apart. After 1 hour and 20 minutes, your brisket will be tender and tasty and slice easily (like for a sandwich)," writes Jamie Geller in her new book, "Quick & Kosher Meals in Minutes" (Feldheim, $34.99).
"Cook another 2 hours and the meat will just fall apart and melt in your mouth. There are no rules for this one. It's up to you."
Fat. There is, however, a rule about fat. Keep the fat on the meat while it cooks.
"Fat bastes the meat and keeps it from getting dry and stringy," says Joyce Goldstein, a chef and cookbook author. So adamant is she about buying meat with the fat still on, she special orders her brisket from her butcher.
Goldstein trims the fat from the meat after braising and skims any fat from the gravy as well before serving.
Given the rush of preparing for Passover, you might want to consider cooking that brisket ahead of time. Nathan recommends refrigerating the cooked brisket in its cooking liquid.
When cool, cut off the fat and slice the meat against the grain. Put the sliced brisket back in the liquid and freeze until ready to reheat and serve.
"As for a sauce on top," Nathan says, "the gravy is so good on a brisket, I don't bother."
Brisket with ginger, orange peel and tomato
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 2 hours 50 minutes
Tender is the brisket
How to soften a tough cut for Passover
Brisket for Passover (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)