Chanukah and Christmas

The eight days of the Jewish festival of Chanukah have just come to an end. The tradition in Jewish family homes is the lighting of a candle in a ‘menorah’ or candelabra each evening at dusk throughout the festival. Chanukah is the Jewish festival celebrating light over darkness.

Doughnuts and candles

Its a very lovely celebration not unlike Christmas in that it is a happy, family based festive occasion with plenty of present giving but, you may ask, what’s this got to do with food? Well, food features very heavily in Jewish festivals (and Jewish life); Chanukah is all about oil, when it is traditional to eat doughnuts (cooked in oil of course), which I love. The very best doughnuts, in my humble opinion, are produced in St. John’s Bakery in London. Sadly, no one sells St John’s doughnuts in Broadway, or anywhere other than St John’s for that matter, but if ever you have the opportunity, you must try them.

Sorry to ramble on about St John but Fergus Henderson, who basically is St John, is one of my all time food heroes and his restaurants are sublime. Try Eccles Cakes and Lancashire Cheese if you have the joy of going to one of his restaurants.

Anyway, I hope all my lovely Jewish friends and family have spent a very Happy Chanukah.

Now to Christmas…..

With the agreement of  the family I am throwing tradition to the wind and foodwise, at least, we are having a different Christmas.

I first thought about the glazed ham which we traditionally have every year and what would be a good alternative. So, instead of ham, I’m now in the process of brining a brisket of beef in preparation for some salt beef over the holiday period. Two of my kids are returning from Austin, Texas where beef – whether it be barbecued, corned or whatever – seems to be the top of the ‘must eat’ over on the other side of the ocean, so let’s hope they approve. And as salt beef is a very traditional Jewish dish, it combines my theme of Chanukah and Christmas very nicely. Very important as my very own family are an example of that combination!

Here’s how to do it:

  • 2.5kg good rolled beef brisket
A lovely piece of brisket from our lovely butcher, Stuart.

For the brine:

  • 4ltrs Cold Water
  • 400g Sea Salt
  • 30g Saltpeter (ask your butcher or ask me if you live locally. Its also known as Sodium Nitrate)
  • A mix of spices and my suggestion would be: mace, juniper, allspice, coriander, ginger, chilli flakes and a couple of cloves. (This should be about 25g in all and you can choose your own pickling spices)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 cloves of garlic

Bring all of this to boil in a very large pan. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.

You will need a food tray, bucket or suitable and a non-corrosive container which is scrupulously clean and sterile and large enough to accommodate the beef and the brine.

When the brine has cooled pour into the container and add the beef. It’s important to ensure the beef is completely submerged in the brine, which may mean weighting down with bottles of gin or something (!). Lid or cover the container and place in a cold room in the house or a refrigerator.

Brining brisket

Keep it there for 7 – 10 days, turning occasionally and ensuring the beef is always submerged totally. It doesn’t matter if its longer that 10 days.

When you are ready to cook it, place the beef in an accommodating pan and cover with cold fresh water. Add roughly chopped carrots and onions and a bayleaf.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 4 hours making sure the water is topped up to keep the beef covered.

When it’s cooked it will skewer with little resistance.

Now it’s up to you what you do with. It will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.

Serve it sliced, hot or cold with pickles, sauerkraut, mustard, gherkins, horseradish on rye bread or in a bagel. Whatever takes your fancy!

It’s totally delish and such an inexpensive piece of meat. (Probably because its not terribly fashionable, but who cares!). It’s just perfect for picking at and snacking over the holidays.

Now thats what I call a salt beef sandwich!

Christmas Day planned meal is completely alternative, think pork belly! I might share this recipe after Christmas depending on how it goes down with a house full of foodies!

I hope you agree that it’s the perfect time to combine the influences of  Chanukah and Christmas, especially when it comes to wonderful food.

I’ll be back before Christmas. Please contact me if you need any help (or Saltpeter!)






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