A combination cookbook, Jewish stand-up comedy and family album, Eat Something: A Wise Sons Cookbook for Jews Who Like Food and Food Lovers Who Like Jews by Evan Bloom & Rachel Levin includes recipes from Wise Sons Delicatessen with locations in the San Francisco area as well as Tokyo that Bloom co-founded a decade ago.
“Our lives, as Jews, revolve around food in a way that’s at once fanatical, logical, and comical, and to be honest, kind of pathological,” writes Bloom in the introduction to his book. “Especially when family is in town. Meals are plotted with the care and calculation of a presidential campaign. While spreading the cream cheese on our bagels, we discuss where we should go for lunch; while the Russian dressing drips from our Reubens, we ruminate over dinner reservations; while arguing over the best way to get to the airport in the morning, we wonder if we’ll have time to pick up egg-and-cheese sandwiches on the way. (We won’t.)”
The touch of humor begins when you first open the book to find a page titled: “A Jewish Life in Meals a.k.a the Table of Contents” with such chapter headings as “Visiting the Grandparents in the Sunshine States,” “Dinner with the Goyim In-Laws,” “First Meal Home from College” and “J Dating: “Are you Meeting New People? (I Hope They’re the Right Kind.)”
Besides the recipes and the jokes, Bloom also added family photos and recollections (centered around food, of course), illustrations, food shots of some of the recipes and intriguing tidbits including how frequently Chinese take-out is served in Jewish homes for Christmas Dinner. The later is something Bloom says dates back to at least 1935 when the New York Times ran a story about Eng Shee Chuck, who owned a restaurant in Newark, New Jersey, brought enough chow mein to feed 80 as well as toys wrapped in red ribbon to a Jewish Children’s Home. It’s that kind of book.
The following recipes are reprinted from Eat Something by Evan Bloom with permission by Chronicle Books, 2020
Big Macher Burger
Makes 4 burgers
4 ounces pastrami
1 pound 80/20 ground beef (80 percent lean beef and 20 percent fat)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
4 slices American cheese (or Cheddar, if you must)
4 sesame seed challah buns
¼ cup Russian Dressing (see recipe below)
16 Pickled Cucumbers Bread & Butter Style (see below)
¼ cup chopped yellow onion
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
Full sour dill pickle spears for serving
Finely chop the pastrami or pulse quickly with a food processor, taking care not to over process, which will heat the meat. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef and chopped pastrami. Use clean hands to mix the meats together until well combined, but do not overmix. Use a kitchen scale to weigh out four 5 oz [140 g] portions or simply eyeball them, forming each into a smooth round ball between your palms. Gently press each patty into a flat puck, tossing and patting between your hands until you have a nice flattened patty, about 5-inches across and ½-inches thick. Transfer to a large plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to cook. The patties can be made up to 1 day in advance.
Set a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat and coat evenly with the oil. When the oil is shimmering, remove the patties from the refrigerator and sprinkle the tops liberally with half the salt, flip, and sprinkle with the remaining salt. Add two patties to the pan and cook until a light brown crust forms on the bottom and the burger is turning from pink to brown at the edges, about 3 minutes. Carefully flip with a spatula and place a cheese slice over each burger. Cook for 2 minutes more for a medium-rare to medium burger. The cheese will have melted well at this point. Transfer the cooked burgers to a plate or baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining patties.
With the oil and beef fat still in the pan, place the buns, cut-side down, in the pan and cook over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until a golden, toasty crust has formed. Flip and cook for 1 minute more to heat the buns completely.
Put a heaping spoonful of dressing on the bottom half of the bun, spreading it out to the edges. Spread out four bread and butter pickle coins on top, and sprinkle with onion. Place the cheese-covered patty on top, and cover with a heap of lettuce. Spread a bit more dressing on the top bun to “glue” it to the burger toppings and use your palm to gently smush everything down. Serve with a sour pickle spear.
½ cup mayonnaise
1½ tablespoons ketchup
1½ tablespoons grated yellow onion (use the small holes of a box grater)
1 tablespoon dill pickle relish
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon sriracha
Pinch of garlic powder
Freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, ketchup, onion, relish, Worcestershire, sriracha, garlic powder, and a few grinds of pepper until well combined. Store, covered, in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Makes about 3/4 cup.
Pickled Cucumbers Bread & Butter Style
Makes enough to fill a 1 quart jar
1 recipe Sweet Brine (see recipe below)
12 ounce Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
1 teaspoon brown or yellow mustard seeds
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the flat side of a knife
While the brine mixture is heating, toss the cucumbers and onions together in a small bowl to evenly combine, then transfer to a clean 1 qt [960 ml] glass jar and add the mustard seeds, turmeric, and garlic. Slowly pour the hot brine into the jar and let the entire mixture cool on the counter until it reaches room temperature. Seal with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate. The pickles will be ready to eat within 24 hours but will get better with age. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
Makes about 2 ¼ cups
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
Heat the sugar, salt, vinegar in water in a small, heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat until the liquid begins to bubble, whisking once or twice to make sure the sugar and salt are dissolved. Cook for 30 seconds more and remove from the heat.
Wise Sons’ Brisket
Serves 8 (with plenty of leftovers)
1/3 cup spicy brown deli mustard (any mustard will work in a pinch), plus more as needed
4 1/2 tablespoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt
1 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
One 6 to 8 pounds beef brisket
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 cups homemade stock, low-sodium chicken, beef, or vegetable broth, or water
12 ounces bottle of beer (something dark and sweet, like a porter) or ½ bottle dry red wine (such as Cabernet or Zinfandel)
5 whole pitted prunes
2 dried bay leaves
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
8 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the flat side of a knife
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)
Mix the mustard, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slather all over the brisket and place it on a baking sheet. Let sit, uncovered, in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight for maximum moistness.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or another large heavy-bottomed, ovenproof pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the brisket and sear until browned on both sides, about 5 to 8 minutes per side. You want a nice golden crust. Transfer to a platter and set aside.
Increase the heat to medium-high, add the stock to the pot, and bring to a simmer, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
Add the beer, prunes, bay leaves, and brown sugar. Cook until the sugar has dissolved, stirring if necessary. Remove from the heat.
Return the brisket to the pot, fat-side up, and scatter the carrots around the meat. Blanket the meat with the onions and garlic. Cover the pot tightly with a lid or heavy-duty aluminum foil. Transfer to the oven and braise the brisket for about 3 hours, flipping the brisket every hour. Cook until a fork inserted into the center rotates easily, with just a little resistance, but without tearing the meat to shreds.
Remove the brisket from the pot and use a large, sharp knife to cut the brisket against the grain into ¼ in [6 mm] thick slices. Remove the bay leaves from the pot and discard.
Using an immersion blender directly in the pot, purée the jus and the remaining tender vegetables—this will give the gravy a sweet taste and enough body to slick over the brisket. (At this point, the brisket and gravy can be transferred to a roasting pan, ready to reheat, with the brisket fanned out and smothered by the gravy. Or store in separate containers.
Either way, let cool, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
If reheating the brisket straight out of the refrigerator, preheat the oven to 300°F.
Use a spoon to skim off any fat on the surface of the gravy. Cover tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil and warm for about 30 minutes, or until heated through.)
In the deli, we like a thicker gravy. To achieve this, transfer half of it to a small heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a medium simmer. Return the sliced brisket to the pot with the remaining gravy and keep warm on a burner at its lowest setting. Cook the gravy in the small pot until reduced by half, 30 to 40 minutes, stirring as needed so it doesn’t burn. If you like, whisk in the butter for extra sheen, body, and richness, and then a bit more mustard to taste. Transfer the brisket to a platter, spoon the thickened gravy over the meat, and serve.
Grandma’s “secret” recipe . . .
Season a beef brisket heavily with salt and pepper, and transfer to roasting pan, fat-side up. Add a packet of Lipton onion soup mix, a can of Coca-Cola, a bottle of Heinz chili sauce (yes, the entire bottle), a few thinly sliced yellow onions, and some chopped carrots. Cook for 3 hours in a 350°F oven.
Jane Ammeson can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to Focus, The Herald Palladium, P.O. Box 128, St. Joseph, MI 49085.