A New Meat For Thanksgiving


Photo by Regina Charboneau

To try peppered beef brisket, click here for the recipe.

This is the week I take out my corn bread I made last week, make my dressings and beef brisket, and get them in the freezer.

I know brisket of beef may not be part of a traditional Thanksgiving, but I never liked turkey that much. Thanksgiving in Natchez was a Sanguinetti event. That is my mother's side of the family. They are the most wonderful people, who love to entertain, but I have to be honest, my cooking genes came from the Trosclair side, my father's family in South Louisiana. This may explain why I did not have a fondness for the food at Thanksgiving. It was not at all what I had the rest of the year.

Our home kitchen was filled with savory, delectable, well-seasoned, well-prepared food. Thanksgiving brought memories of dried-out turkey, gravy without a dark roux, and whatever gelatin concoction was en vogue at the time. I saw jello-based side dishes go from green to orange to burgundy in the '60s and early '70s. The dressing was often made by the cooks at the Catholic school cafeteria and purchased, and it was as bland as a dressing could be. This history forced me to find a way to make turkey more moist and flavorful and add many dishes that were more of what I wanted than what I had in the past.

I found a new love for Thanksgiving.

When I was living in San Francisco, it was nearly impossible for me to get home to Natchez for holidays because of my restaurants. I did manage to cook a meal at home or at the restaurant and have many friends over. I added brisket to my menu because my philosophy is "more is better". I also liked the idea of additional meat well-suited to all the fabulous side dishes. Brisket is such a flavorful meat and not nearly as expensive as a roasted rib eye if you are cooking for a crowd, and it is just as good a vehicle to carry a creamy horseradish sauce. I found a new love for Thanksgiving.

Let's talk brisket. Quality is key. I prefer Black Angus and choice is as low as I go for grade. I trim it but not too much. I prefer a flat cut brisket. These cuts are in the 4 to 6 pound range and have been trimmed of most excess fat. You want your brisket to have some fat still on. Meat is graded by the amount of marbling in the beef. With only 4 percent of USDA Prime beef going to market, these expensive cuts are almost exclusively for hotels, restaurants, and high-quality butcher shops. 50 percent of retail meat is of USDA Choice quality and more than acceptable. When you get into select meats, you are taking a more of a risk for tough meats with less marbling and flavor.

Cooking it with the fat gives extra flavor. The excess fat is skimmed off so you don't have to worry about not trimming enough. When you cook and slice and freeze, make sure you have plenty of sauce on the brisket to keep it moist when you re-heat it on Thanksgiving morning. I make brisket many times a year and keep it in my freezer for an impromptu dinner party or to make brisket po' boys on French bread for my boys and their friends. I hope this becomes a favorite recipe for you and a nice addition to your meat platter at Thanksgiving or any other holiday.