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Monday, April 22, 2019

Brisket for Two - a Nod to Passover

Presented with apologies to all of my ancestors that survived Lithuania just long enough to pass this on
this important culture to some idiotic child like me. 
I'm easily the worst possible source for how to host a Passover Seder, but I had a little feast anyway. Genetically, I'm 50% Ashkenazi Jewish and 50% Indigenous Pinoy/Tagalog...so dang, do I know how to deep-fry some good stuff, and that's about the beginning and end of what those two cuisines have in common. I like to celebrate all holidays that I'm able to, even if I can't have any bread, cookies, scones or muffins for the next week. (Not 'can't,' won't is more like it. 100% choice.) While I realized I didn't actually have a proper seder plate, I still wanted to celebrate the first night of Passover with my husband. So we did something completely casual for the two of us!

I've had a few Passover Seders here and there, so let's just get down to it: The Passover Seder is a very special one that involves story telling around the table. Every piece of what the table has on it means something. It's a ritualistic meal and a very important one at that. This blog is merely to show you what I did and I don't want anyone to get offended (not that I could see how) but we did want to celebrate the freedom of the Hebrews.

Motivation time:

If you ever feel insignificant: 10,000 years of civilization with every single aspect of nature (that wants you dead, by the way) fighting against you, as well as other peoples fighting against you, you've made it. You were the one that made it through the infinitely small chances of coming into existence. Every single life is unbelievably unlikely, and you are the one that's here, reading this now. After everything the last 10,000 years has thrown at the human civilization, you made it. I don't know if that's by chance or not, but the blood and souls of your ancestors were fighting hard for you to be here. Some of mine got lost in a desert for 40 years, but dammit they made it. Just so one of their descendants can screw up a Passover Seder. I hope they at least developed a sense of humor over all those millenia.

We'll get to the meal in a minute, but before all that I want to at least touch on what goes on your traditional Seder plate. I'd like to point out that nothing on this particular plate is eaten, just put up for the ritual and for the story you tell as you sit down for the meal. This story is a very important one to tell, and quite important to the actual ritual of eating.

What goes on the Seder Plate

  • Zeroa (shank bone)
    • Usually a lamb shank bone, it represents the sacrifice offered up from the Hebrews on the eve of their exodus from Egypt
  • Beitzah(hard-boiled egg)
    • This represents a sort of "new beginnings", a universal Springtime symbol! It's not eaten from the seder plate, but lots of folks serve an appetizer of chopped egg salad or deviled eggs before the meal.
  • Charoset(yummy)
    • This 'paste' is actually delicious! It's a mash of apples, pears, dates, walnuts, honey, and a dash or two of kosher wine. Do yourself a favor and set some aside for yourself for the dinner table. If there's any leftover, spread it on matzoh the morning after for a treat!
  • Maror (bitter herb)
    • Usually horseradish or romaine lettuce, it represents the bitterness of slavery
  • Karpas (spring vegetable)
    • Most folks use parsley, which is bitter, but also alive and springy, served next to salt water to represent the tears cried by the slaves.
Now that that's all out of the way, we can get on to what you can actually serve for a Passover Seder. Roast chicken is a fairly traditional staple, and so is brisket. So long as it's not mixing milk and meat, and the meat is kosher, go nuts! It's all entirely up to the host's preferences. This hostess did...

Favorite Easy Brisket for Two
  • 2.5 lb brisket (it's what they had at the butcher)
  • Ground spice mix
    • 3 Tbsp kosher salt
    • 2 tsp coffee grounds
    • Zest of 1 lemon
    • 1/2 tsp whole coriander
    • 1/4 tsp whole cumin
    • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne
    • 5 or 6 allspice berries
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 1 large tomato, cut into wedges and salted
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced
  • Boiled potatoes 
  • Garden Herbs
  • Hard-boiled Eggs (dyed because Easter was yesterday)
Grind your spices in a mortar and pestle (or a spice grinder if you have it), putting the salt in the bottom first, then the cumin and coriander, then the rest of everything else. Grind it to be course yet so everything's all about the same size. You'll just love the aroma! Mix it with a few drops of a neutral oil (grapseed or canola will do) and rub it all over your brisket. Re-wrap it and let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes, but of course the longer you let it sit, the better. 

The moment I get home from the butcher, I like to salt and pepper my meat and rewrap it in the paper. I think this lets the salt do its magic a little easier, and it just gets things going. Prepare the vegetables by washing and chopping them simply. The best part about meals like this is that you can start it in the middle of the afternoon, forget about it and go on about your day, and then come back to a delicious meal. I suggest 2+ hours of cooking time, so please plan accordingly. 

To prepare a brisket, first preheat your oven to 400 degrees and break out your favorite casserole pot. I have this incredible old pot that my great-grandmother used. I have no idea where it came from, I just know that it's been in my family for generations and that it's the best damn pot I've ever had. Pick something that'll go both on the stovetop and the oven without cracking or blinking an eye (so to speak). Pots like these are investments, and I highly suggest you get one!

Set your casserole pot on a high flame and add a small glug of canola oil to the bottom. Let heat and give it a gentle swirl. Unwrap that brisket that's been pre-seasoned, and place it - fat cap side down - into the pot. Turn the flame down to medium-high and turn on your vent. It might help to open a window lest your home kitchen is like mine without a commercial vent. You're going to let it sear for at least 3 minutes before you turn over and let it sear on the other side for another 2 minutes. Remove from the pot and set on a plate. Turn that heat back up to high.

Terrible picture, but you get the idea.
Dump in all of your vegetables that you've chopped and cook for 2 minutes. Stir, scraping the bottom, and then cover and reduce the flame to medium. Let cook for another 2 minutes, open the top and scrape up all the goodies. Arrange the veggies so they are an even surface to put your  meat back onto. Let your meat rest atop the veg, fat cap side up, and cover. Let cook on the stove for about 10 minutes before putting in the hot oven. When you do put it in the oven, decide then if you'd like to introduce any herbs from your garden. A big bunch of parsley might be nice, or some dill. Either way, pop that covered pot into that oven.

Cook for 45 minutes, then turn the heat down to 325 and cook for another 90 minutes (or an hour and a half). You can take this time to take a shower, go for a walk, read a magazine, or do any other errand around the house. You can also prepare some yummy sides! Here's my favorite easy way to do red-skinned potatoes:

Take large red-skinned potatoes and pop them all in a tall stock pot (mine is about 4 qt). Fill the pot with water so that the potatoes are completely submerged and add a little more than a half a cup of kosher salt (I'm seriously not kidding) into the water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.Cook until soft, then let sit for at least 15 minutes. Drain this salty water and let the potatoes air-dry on a paper towel. They're going to form a beautiful salty crust, so don't be alarmed. Now, they're soft and ready to be fried in butter or oil! Simply smash them or cut them in rough cubes, then cook on a medium-high heat to brown! The result is like a french fry only without all the work. You can also add in chopped herbs, sliced asparagus...whatever you like! I took some asparagus from my garden and mixed it in with these glorious potatoes to serve as my side-dish.

The picture is only blurry because it's steamy!

To make the perfect hard-boiled egg, begin with cold water, completely covering the eggs in the pot. Bring your pot to a boil, turn the heat off, and cover. Set the timer for 15 minutes, then drain and pour ice straight atop the eggs. This will make peeling a much easier feat in the future, believe you me!

I did have a little more than some fun dyeing these eggs. Simple technique! Dye a base coat in the normal method, but leave it a little pale. Then make a layered solution of white vinegar and canola oil. Drop a few drops of dye into the oil, and quickly drop in the egg. Swirl it around a bit and then let drip on a tray lined with a cooling rack The effect will be a beautiful marbled one. If you're feeling fancy, dust on some luster dust with a paintbrush while still damp. Gorgeous!

Your brisket should be done about now. Remove from the oven and let hang out on the stovetop for about 15 minutes. You're letting everything rest and making it easier for yourself to slice. I suggest thin slices, crosswise from the grain. Serve with your potatoes, herbs, eggs, and more!

Thanks so much for joining me on this post. I'm loving my new work schedule and I hope you guys love it, too.  Chag sameach! (That's yiddish for happy holidays)

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram if you aren't already doing so. Just yesterday I've had a minor panic about what to do with a traditional passover breakfast of Matzoh-brei.  Enjoy a photo of it here!

 Happy cooking and happy eating!

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