Jewish Philosophy New York City Brisket


The good news is that it may just be the case that there’s no need to go to Texas for Texas brisket. You can get it here and maybe even better in New York City, with more creative and lighter sides than the grotesque mayo laden coleslaw and lumpy potato salad that comes standard with the fare. But more to the point, somewhere between serious and semi-serious, this article in the New York Times about the local emergent brisket scene in New York spoke to my Jewish philosophy palette. What’s the ta’am of Jewish philosophy? Why can’t it  write like this work, taste like this, with the same attention to material and process, local style, and an image of perfection, with the same artisanal craft?

Jewish philosophy could look like “smoky meat topped with wobbly, savory fat, rimmed with a lip-numbing crust of coarse black pepper. ‘It’s a small number of things to get right,” he said, “and I am haunted by all of them.’ “”  It needs to start cooking at a lower temperature, coaxing a lighter smoke flavor into the meat, using prime-grade beef“  with “a dash or two of New York experimentalism: Pennsylvania Dutch potato rolls, Vietnamese rice paper, or biodynamic or natural wines.

None of this is easy. Like brisket, Jewish philosophy is “particularly difficult cut to cook, a thick clump of fat, muscle, connective tissue and collagen that, under perfect conditions, combine into supple, beefy perfection. For professionals, the greatest challenge is consistency, making sure that each brisket comes out identically.”

It requires slow cooking, Jewish philosophy is best done “when it hits a certain temperature. Yes, the meat will be cooked through at 180 degrees. It will also be fibrous, and webbed with chewy, sticky collagen. A brisket needs to spend a certain amount of time — just how long depends on the individual cut — at that temperature, as the fat renders into drippiness and the collagen turns to gelatin. Meat that feels tough after 10 hours may be perfect at 12. Be patient...Mr. Laracuente, the Hometown pitmaster, says that cooking meat in the dark of night, stoking the fires and communing with the briskets are surprisingly satisfying compared with other kitchen jobs he’s held. “Cooking is science, but barbecue is magic,” he said.”

To model this kind of thinking, start with Leviticus. Or perhaps one could identify two types of Jewish philosophy, flat-philosophy and point-philosophy, based on two types of muscle that characterize the brisket.  “A whole brisket consists of two distinct muscles, usually separated into what butchers call the flat and the point.” There’s always the one kind of Jewish philosophy. “The flat, or first cut, is too lean to barbecue on its own; braised, it makes a nice pot roast.” I have nothing against pot roast, but I’d rather have a Jewish philosophy that tastes like “The point, or second cut, [which] must be attached for barbecue, along with the sheath of fat that covers the whole cut.



About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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1 Response to Jewish Philosophy New York City Brisket

  1. Alan says:

    Cute. I lived for a year (clerking for a federal judge) in Dallas. The NYT article brought back a real craving. But I’m stuck in Madison, WI, which doesn’t know from either Jewish deli or Texas Q. We do have just a taste of Jewish philosophy, but mostly medieval.

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