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Mixed Review: Williams-Sonoma Brisket Starter

Ever wonder about a mix you've seen in the store? Is it any good? Could it replace something you'd otherwise make from scratch? Welcome to Mixed Review, where the whole point is putting mixes to the test! —The Mgmt.

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[Photos: Lucy Baker]

This year Rosh Hashanah falls smack in the middle of the week. Between work, recipe testing, and taking care of our new puppy, I just don't have time to prepare a lavish holiday feast from scratch. Williams-Sonoma recently released a jarred brisket starter made from tomatoes, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar. All you have to do is pour it over the beef and braise in the oven or slow cooker. But would it be as good as a Jewish bubbe's?

All told, the jar of brisket starter looked like little more than gussied-up pasta sauce. And the $16 price tag was staggeringly high. Sure, I wanted to cut corners and save time, but I also wanted to prepare a delicious dinner worthy of a special occasion—without spending a fortune. The best braised brisket is meltingly tender, and tastes of onions, carrots, tomatoes, fresh herbs, and red wine. Could all of that big, bold flavor really come out of a single jar?

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To prepare my brisket, I followed the instructions for the slow cooker method on the jar. First I seared the beef in a bit of vegetable oil in a hot pan until it was nice and crusty on all sides. Then I transferred it to my slow cooker and added some sliced carrots (and some parsnips for good measure). Lastly, I poured in the jar of brisket starter and set it to cook on high for five hours. From start to finish, the whole production took me about 15 minutes.

At the end of the day my brisket was fall-apart tender. The meat juices had simmered slowly was the starter, creating a thick, concentrated sauce that smelled of onions, beef, and tomato. It looked near perfect, but was that more of a testament to my slow cooker than the jarred brisket starter? How would it taste?

The best thing about the brisket starter was the way it flavored and tenderized the meat. Brisket is a tough cut, and the vinegar, sugar, tomatoes, and spices really penetrated the meat and imbued it with hearty, robust flavor. Every bite was incredibly rich and moist, and not the least bit tough or dry. My one caveat with the starter was that I found it a bit too sweet, and I missed the winey flavor that comes from pouring in a cup or two of red. At $16, I wanted a more sophisticated flavor. Go for it if you're in a serious time crunch and are willing to splurge. Otherwise, start from scratch using this recipe for Really Good Brisket.

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