It was all about the corned beef.
Last year, as part of her Hanukkah party menu, my mother made the most amazing, fabulous, out of this world corned beef.
Family and friends, adding up to about 20, simply couldn’t get enough. I am pretty sure it wasn’t just because it was one of the more healthy selections available.
Forget her latkes and applesauce. Forget the donut holes. Forget the chocolate gelt. Forget her famous mandel bread with the chocolate chips. The corned beef, by far, overshadowed not only all the other food, but the gifts, the décor (no one even noticed the Hanukkah themed centerpiece) as well as the utter adorableness of the grandchildren (no biggie, they are all teenagers and older.)
We are at that stage in life where food rules. Or, perhaps it was always about the food.
“Where did you get it?” I asked my mother.
“The Butcherie,” she told me, rolling her eyes. She got all her meat at the same kosher butcher.
“Did you buy it cooked from them?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I made it. “
“Do you swear you made it?”
“Ronna, don’t be stupid. Of course I made it.”
The rest is a blur. Bits and pieces of discussions about baking versus boiling and why Jewish corned beef is pink, and non-Jewish corned beef is brown (a la corned beef and cabbage.)
And perhaps, because I was in corned beef coma, I didn’t ask the right questions:
Exactly HOW did you make it? What did you put on top of it? Did you boil it first? Did you make it the day before? How long did you bake it? At what temp?
I never asked, because despite her constant declarations of “this will be my last….” everything, perhaps I really didn’t think my mom would die before she had a chance to make that corned beef again.
I never grabbed a pen and paper that day. I never pressed. And then I forgot to ask.
So now I find myself in charge of the Hanukkah party this year, and the best corned beef ever recipe is lost.
But I feel the need to do it this year. Make it as good. Have everyone love it as much.
Again, it is all about the corned beef.
I called Judy, her best friend, trying to put together the recipe from what she remembered. “She definitely did not boil it first. Your mother said that is what made it shrink. That was the beauty of it, one step. I think it was a mustard sauce.”
I called Ralph at the Butcherie. “I’m so sorry to hear about your mother; she was a wonderful woman….” he told me.
“…Ralph, what about the corned beef? Do you have her order from last Hanukkah?”
“I’m afraid not. “
“Did you give her the recipe?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Did she buy it from you cooked already?” I just had to ask, but I put my arms up to shield me in case of sudden lightening.
“Of course not.” Figures.
“What cut was it?”
“It’s a brisket. Come in, we’ll talk.”
So now I wonder something akin to “how does the aspirin know to go to the baby toe and not your head?” If corned beef is just a brisket slow cooked in the oven, how does it know to come out a corned beef and not a brisket? Is it just the omission of carrots and the hot and sour sauce?
If you know the answer, feel free to comment below, because I would love the advice. As of now, I’m going the oven route, I’m winging it with a mustard sauce, and I am planning to have a long talk with Ralph this week.
And for sure, I’m going to make the mandel bread with the chocolate chips. I was smart enough to get that recipe.