Two years ago, I met a man I was instantly attracted to. Eric was funny, kind, brilliant, giving, and easygoing. Eric and I had a lot in common: We both thrived on a fast-paced life in Manhattan, we both had exes, we both had grown children we adored, and we were both at that stage in our lives where we liked the idea of a dog more than the dog. Best of all, it was obvious to me after just a few weeks of dating that Eric, an art appraiser, valued me very highly.
As the trees in Central Park started to lose their leaves, I realized that I was falling in love. I sensed that Eric was too. But he was reticent: After two months of serious dating, he still signed his e-mails, “Regards, Eric.”
How could I get him to express his true feelings for me? I felt it would take something special. Something that we could share. Something that would warm his heart and give him great joy.
I opted for brisket.
Don’t laugh: A well-cooked braised brisket can be far more seductive than a negligee. Drab brown in color and shaped roughly like the state of Tennessee, brisket basically came over from Eastern Europe in steerage. It’s made with love and served to people you love. Brisket is the ultimate comfort food.
Brisket itself is also a lot like a midlife romance. To make either succeed, you need a combination of patience, time, love, and a dash of hope (it takes a couple of nights of marinating, an afternoon in the oven, and some generous basting to turn this tough cut into its delectable ideal). Then and only then, what starts out with the faintest potential turns unbelievably wonderful—tender, luscious, supernal. Something almost magical, which you didn’t really expect to happen, happens.
Or so I’d hoped. It was a bitterly cold December in New York, and Eric was about to come home from a two-week business trip when I launched my plan. “Come for dinner next Wednesday,” I e-mailed him. “I hope you’re hungry for a home-cooked meal.” “Sounds great,” he replied promptly, signing off his e-mail as ever, “Regards, Eric.”
I had my work cut out.
Fortunately, I had a leg up: Our dinner would fall during Hanukkah. While I grew up as a half-Jew in a trim-the Christmas-tree family, Eric was raised in a Jewish household. His family’s treasured brisket recipe had come to America when his grandparents left Latvia. His 91-year-old mother, Thelma, still makes it to considerable oohs and aahs. Of all people, Eric got brisket.
The cut of meat I prepared in my apartment that Wednesday night was bathed in a silky gravy with quivering crimson cranberry slices that melted into the meat and slowly caramelized it. Dozens of tea candles flickered on my dining room table;a brass menorah lit up the mantel. A lusty bottle of Malbec was shared and savored. Even the brisket’s aroma was intoxicating. Resistance was…sigh…futile.
The next day I got an e-mail that read, “Thanks for the incredible dinner and a very special evening.” It was signed, “Love, Eric.”
Stephanie Pierson is the author of The Brisket Book: A Love Story with Recipes (Andrews McMeel Publishing).