I can’t believe I’d never heard of this recipe until I was halfway through writing this cookbook and then only because my good friend Fran McCullough, a primo New York cookbook editor now retired and living in the historic town of Hillsborough just north of Chapel Hill, e-mailed one morning full of enthusiasm: “Have you ever heard of Atlanta Brisket?” She’d eaten it for the first time the night before at some local “food do” and was blown away by its flavor and succulence. A quick online search turned up this shocker. Eli N. Evans, my across-the-hall Gramercy Park co-op neighbor for nearly 20 years, is an aficionado of Atlanta Brisket. Who knew? President Emeritus of The Charles H. Revson Foundation of New York and like me a born-and-bred Tar Heel, Eli is the author of three acclaimed books: The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South, Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate, and The Lonely Days Were Sundays: Reflections of a Jewish Southerner. The irony here is that I’d hand recipe “tests” across the hall to Eli and his family, never dreaming that he knew a thing about cooking.
- 5 pounds fresh beef brisket, trimmed of excess fat
- 2 bottles (16.5 ounces each) Coca-Cola (not Diet Coke)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cups Coca-Cola marinade, reserved from above
- 1 envelope dry onion soup mix (from a 2-ounce package)
- 1 can (8 ounces) salt-free tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup tomato ketchup
- 3 large yellow onions, halved lengthwise and each half sliced about 3/8 inch thick
- 3 large whole bay leaves (preferably fresh)
- 1. Place brisket in large nonreactive roaster with snug-fitting lid (I used one measuring 15 1/2 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 4 inches deep). Pour Coca-Cola evenly over brisket, cover, and refrigerate 24 hours, turning brisket once or twice in Coca-Cola marinade.
- 2. When ready to proceed, preheat oven to 325°F. Lift brisket from roaster and pat dry. Line large fine sieve with coffee filter and set over medium-size bowl. Pour in Coca-Cola marinade and let drip through.
- 3. Rub brisket well on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat oil in very large (15-inch) heavy skillet about 1 minute over high heat until ripples appear on pan bottom. Add brisket and brown 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Return brisket to roaster, now rinsed and dried.
- 4. For Gravy: Combine 2 cups filtered Coca-Cola marinade, soup mix, tomato sauce, and ketchup and pour over brisket. Scatter sliced onions on top and drop in bay leaves. Note: If you use fresh bay leaves, crinkle them a bit as you drop them into the roaster to release their flavor.
- 5. Cover roaster, slide into lower third of oven, and braise brisket 4 hours. Check roaster at half time and if liquid seems skimpy—not likely—add a little more filtered Coca-Cola marinade, or beef broth, or water.
- 6. Remove roaster from oven and set on trivet on counter. Remove lid and cool brisket at least 30 minutes to allow juices to settle and meat to firm up. Note: Some cooks bring the brisket to room temperature before serving. Discard bay leaves and remaining Coca-Cola marinade.
- 7. To serve, lift brisket to cutting board and slice about 1/4 inch thick—across the grain and slightly on the bias. Overlap brisket slices on large platter and smother with pan gravy and onions. The best accompaniment? For me nothing beats a tart and creamy coleslaw.