When it comes to innovations in the kitchen, the greatest challenge may be finding ways to breathe fresh life into old, well-traveled favorites. Consider, for example, the lowly beef brisket: tough, chewy, and cheap, it is a staple of blue-collar cookery. Yet, for all its coarseness, the brisket’s rich deposits of collagen and fat blossom under long, low heat, a quirk that has made it the cornerstone of numerous beloved dishes, from pot roast to corned beef to barbecue. What’s more, the brisket’s low price often translates into a lot of leftovers, so it’s not surprising that the humble cut often shows up in classic sandwiches, from the comforting roast beef to the rich Reuben.
When Joe Dobias, chef-owner of New York’s JoeDoe restaurant, decided to open a corner sandwich shop in the East Village, one of his first priorities was finding a way to re-imagine the brisket sandwich. “I wanted to take something that’s slipping into the past and resuscitate it,” he says. “I wanted to cut away the BS, reduce it to the fundamentals and produce something heartfelt.”
When Dobias began his experiments with brisket, his first touchstone was the traditional Passover brisket, a culinary influence that he chalks up to his wife, Jill Schuester. “Jill is Jewish, which opened me to a whole other style of cooking,” he explains. “Jewish cooking is one of the last bastions of great peasant cuisine, and we wanted to bring it to the forefront.”
For his Almighty Brisket sandwich, Dobias started with the classic Jewish brisket recipe, but immediately took it in a different direction. Rather than employing the traditional prune, chili sauce and ketchup combination, he drew his inspiration from a food culture located on the other side of the world: Vietnam.
Before roasting his brisket, Dobias rubs it with sugar, salt and peppercorns, a mix that evokes the clean, sweet and tangy flavors of Vietnamese cuisine. The alchemy of slow roasting transforms the meat, combining spicy tang with a caramel-like chewiness that is comforting, yet slightly exotic.
“In the food world, authenticity is not as stressed as it once was,” Dobias emphasizes. “This really frees me up to do some very creative things.” The rest of the Almighty Brisket sandwich exploits this range of opportunities, drawing flavors and techniques from several culinary traditions. Laced with fried onions and a dollop of horseradish, the sandwich tips its hat to its Jewish roots, but veers far from the precincts of Kosher cuisine with a slice of cheddar and a splash of mayonnaise. Finally, a shiny, high-crowned brioche roll evokes a note of formality, bringing to mind the American – and British – high table.
In the end, the Almighty Brisket offers a collection of flavors that, while diverse, blend together in a way that is completely, uniquely American – a testament to a culinary culture that draws its inspiration from flavors and foodways from around the world. Or, as Dobias puts it, “The brisket is familiar and mysterious at the same time. It’s my vision of the most delicious sandwich in the world.”
JoeDough Sandwich Shop, 135 1st Ave., New York, NY, 212-780-9222, chefjoedough.com