Friday, November 8, 2013

Let's Lunch: Home-cooked 'pickled' corned beef from Down Under

Neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night would keep my mother from her weekly appointment at the beauty shop.

She would seek communion each Saturday under hooded hairdryers with a group of likeminded women. While my dad and brothers were not often among them, many of the men of our neighborhood were assembled a few miles away for Saturday morning services at the Jewish center. Prayers were recited and gossip exchanged with equal fervor, both earning the heavenly reward of a hot take-out lunch from the deli.

At home, we would listen intently for the sound of the storm door between the house and the garage to slap shut. Next we'd hear car keys dropped on the kitchen table. My mother, her hair freshly teased and starched, would shout my father's name as she set down a large brown paper bag with telltale grease stains that would make our hearts race. "Irving," she'd yell. "It's lunch time."

Corelle dishes with golden cornflowers quickly would slide across the table as paper napkins and flatware were set in place. The deli bag, damp from the weight of foil-wrapped packets containing sandwiches piled high with steaming, just-sliced corned beef and pastrami on hearty European-style rye bread, would tear as we all reached inside.

A small plastic tub of sinus-clearing mustard was always at the bottom. My dad slathered it on his special order,  a manly heap of boiled, pickled beef tongue topped with discs of raw onion. After the trauma of once seeing a whole thick tongue sliced at the deli, I had to look away when he savored his beloved treat -- especially when slices that escaped his grasp waggled wordlessly above his plate.

Lisa Goldberg
It never occurred to me that the same thing was happening in Jewish households across the globe. Back then, my assumptions about people in Australia were cartoonish, that they walked around upside down, their feet tethered to the earth and their hair sticking out straight as if dangling from a carnival ride. 

The ladies of the Monday Morning Cooking Club, a Sydney-based nonprofit dedicated to preserving the foodways of their varied Jewish experiences, celebrate their own childhood food memories in their eponymous debut cookbook. The charitable sisterhood also spotlights the experience of generations of women who nurtured their families with ancient recipes tweaked to make use of the ingredients available to the lands where destiny took them -- including the land Down Under. 

While the U.S. edition of The Monday Morning Cooking Club cookbook was released in September, I have been happily cooking from the original Australian edition for the past year. I was lucky to receive a personalized copy last December from one of its chief contributors, Let’s Lunch member Lisa Goldberg, while she was traveling in the American South to learn about our deliciously distinctive fare.

The book’s simple recipe for Sara's Pickled Brisket is suitable for a cut of corned beef anywhere between 2 and 4 pounds; mine was just more than 3 pounds, allowing for a substantial dinner for three and plenty of leftovers.

The meat is covered with cool water and a cup each of white vinegar and raw sugar, plus a small handful of peppercorns and nine bay leaves. I’m lucky to have a tree, so I plucked fresh leaves for the purpose.

After two hours of simmering, the corned beef was tender enough to be lifted by a fork but slide right off. The meat was transferred to a roasting pan, given a good scrub with several cloves of crushed garlic and allowed to rest and cool. Ideally, it should be refrigerated overnight and finished the next day. Since I prepped mine in the morning, I finished the following steps to serve it for dinner the same night.

Mound a pile of 3-4 thinly sliced onions on and around the meat, then drizzle on about ¾ cup of honey and 2 tablespoons canola oil. Place the roasting pan into a preheated 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes, occasionally stirring the onions, until the onions are tender and caramelized.

(Note: In my case, the onions were slow to brown. I removed the meat after 40 minutes and tented it with foil to avoid overcooking, then returned the roasting pan to the oven to give the onions more time to finish.)

The meat sliced easily and the finished dish was assembled on a rectangular serving platter. As if the meal was not rich enough, we served it with a mountain of buttery mashed potatoes and plain, practically penitent boiled greens.  We had enough leftovers to dice and add to hash for a second meal topped with lightly fried eggs, whose runny yolks created golden puddles to sweep up with bread.


  1. Coincidentally I was just thinking of cooking corned beef and was about to go search for a recipe. Thanks for sharing this one. It's been having doing LetsLunch with you and the group!

  2. Thanks Jill for the lovely post!! And I am so pleased your views on Australia have been turned upside down, so they are now the right way up :)
    Please come and visit one day and I will show you our amazing and culturally rich Jewish community...and we will feed you very well!!

    If my meat is on the smaller side, I often cook the onions a little bit before putting them on top of the meat so that they go brown. THis is one of my favourite recipes from the book. Give me some rye bread, coleslaw, pickles and lots of mustard and I think we have the BEST sandwich in the world,

  3. Such a lovely post. I'm looking forward to reading Lisa's book and trying this recipes.

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