Irene Diller’s Brisket with Dried Fruit

Irene Diller is my friend Susan Benett’s mother. About 10 years ago, I had a New Year’s Day party and Susan offered to bring her mother’s brisket. I wasn’t a fan of brisket but accepted her offer. Susan’s version of her mother’s recipe included some Vietnamese chili garlic paste, which is not remotely traditional. Even though I was sure I wouldn’t like it, I tasted the brisket – and ate and ate and ate. I absolutely loved it. So even if this doesn’t sound like something you’d like, try it: you’ll like it.

Serves 6 to 8.

5½ to 6 pounds beef brisket
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
6 garlic cloves, chopped
3 large Spanish onions, chopped
2 cups dry red wine
2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
3 to 4 cups water
¼ cup light brown sugar
1 cup (about 20 ounces) pitted dried prunes, halved if desired
1 cup (about 30 ounces) dried apricots, halved if desired
1½ pounds carrots, cut in large chunks
3 medium russet or sweet potatoes, cut in large chunks (optional)
1 to 4 tablespoons Vietnamese chili garlic paste (optional)
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Fresh or prepared horseradish, for serving
2 lemons, quartered for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Pat the brisket dry with paper towels and season with the salt and pepper.

3. Place a large ovenproof pot over high heat and when it is hot, add the oil. Add the brisket and cook until seared, about 6 minutes on each side. Set it aside.

4. Reheat the pot, add the garlic and onions, and cook until soft and slightly golden, about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often. Add the red wine and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in 1 can of tomato paste.

5. Add the brisket, fat side up. Spread the remaining tomato paste in a thick coating over the meat. Add the water and brown sugar to the pot without touching the brisket. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, transfer to the oven, and cook for 1½ hours.

6. Add the prunes, apricots, carrots, and, if desired, the potatoes. The vegetables should be submerged in water; add more water if necessary. Cover the pot, return it to the oven, and continue cooking until the meat and vegetables are very tender, about 1 hour. Add the chili garlic paste, if desired.

7. Turn off the heat but let the pot sit in the oven for 30 minutes. Then remove the brisket and let it cool until you can handle it, about 30 minutes. Slice it thinly against the grain, and return it to the pot. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 days or freeze up to 3 months.

8. To serve, reheat the sliced brisket in the sauce on top of the stove. Add more salt and pepper, if necessary, and serve with the horseradish and lemon quarters.

From Warehouse to Your House: More than 250 Simple, Spectacular Recipes to Cook, Store, and Share When You Buy in Quantity (Simon & Schuster, 2006)