Monday, April 22, 2024

The Infinite Brisket Project: A Passover Story


I received an invitation from the local Humanistic Jewish group to their Passover seder potluck. "That might be fun," I thought. "An excuse to make a brisket!" So I prepared for a trip to Costco to get a brisket.
Then I received an email from the organizer of the seder asking if I could make either a halal or kosher brisket, since there will be three observant Muslims as guests. Well sure, I can do a kosher brisket in the name of shining some light in the darkness that is the Middle East these days; the question is where I can find one. So I posted on the Triangle subreddit -- "Where can I find a kosher brisket?" It's not that I didn't want to find a halal brisket. And the event as a whole was not kosher. But apparently Muslims can eat kosher meat but not the other way around. And honestly, I go to Middle Eastern markets a lot and they skew towards halal chicken and lamb, and not much beef at all. And brisket isn't really the Official Meat of the Middle East the way it seems to be for Jews of eastern European ancestry. The best answer I got was "Ask Chabad."
So I call Chabad in Raleigh, and they say the Food Lion near them has it. Great! I call the Food Lion and they say yes, we have it. But then I remember that I have been sick since the day after I got home from Florida, and the thought of shlepping to Raleigh makes me want a nap. So I think "Where can I get one online?" And after minimal searching, Goldbelly seems like the most likely bet, and sure enough, they come through via Charm City Kosher. Of course I had to take out a small mortgage and cut off an arm to pay for it, but I was able to order a 5 lb. glatt kosher brisket to arrive Tuesday the 16th.
Then I start thinking: brisket cooks down to nothing, and there will be 40 people there. Even if only half eat brisket, that's still not a lot. And since my motto for feeding a crowd is Go Big or Go Home, I decide to get a non-kosher brisket too, just in case. And I'll label them accordingly. So I go to Harris Teeter and get their last brisket.
The next morning there's an email from UPS that my package from Goldbelly is delayed. "Shit," I think. "It's going to be thawed and ruined when it gets here because it's 80 degrees out, and then I'll have to fight with both UPS AND Goldbelly." I remembered that a friend had told me that Trader Joe's has kosher brisket. So I run over to Trader Joe's and get two 2-lb. briskets.
By this point I have spent spent almost $250 on brisket.
The next day, UPS says they'll be delivering that day. At 2 PM, the box arrives. All the dry ice is gone, but the brisket is still frozen. HUZZAH!! Except now I am here with 13 pounds of various brisket. I start thinking of who I will be able to palm some of this off on.
Thursday I start cooking. I go over my recipe with The Wifely Person to make sure that everything is OK for Passover, because if I'm going to spend all that money on kosher brisket, I'm damn well going to keep it kosher. The ketchup has sugar, not corn syrup, so that's OK. I take a break because I'm wondering what the problem with corn is, and I consult with Dr. Google about kitniyot. 
Via Exploring Judaism I learn that kitniyot are loosely translated as legumes and refer to foods like beans, corn, rice, and others. The major concern of the authorities at the time was that these items could become mixed with the prohibited items and one might accidentally eat something they shouldn't.
But it gets even better, because only Ashkenazic (Eastern European ancestry) Jews are forbidden to eat kitniyot on Passover. For Sephardic Jews (see my post on Jamaican Jewish food) it's OK. But apparently some rabbis have decided that it is OK after all to eat kitniyot on Passover. And now I am thinking that rabbis arguing for hundreds of years about what is kosher for Passover and what isn't has to be the most Jewish thing ever, because if you know one thing about Jewish people, it's that we argue about everything. The most loving Jewish families will argue. It's in our DNA.
Now at this point I have to remind you that I am not religious AT ALL. I didn't grow up religious. I don't sing the prayers because they have tunes and I don't know the tunes so even transliteration doesn't save me. I am like the goy at the shabbos dinner except that I'm supposed to know this stuff and I don't. This tends to give me very strong I Do Not Fit In Anywhere vibes, which is kind of distressing these days.
But I digress.
Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not sure if I would have needed kosher wine, but as it turns out, it doesn't matter, because I somehow remember that Muslims can't even use wine for cooking. So I have to find a substitute, and I really don't feel like running out to a grocery store for pomegranate molasses. I start thinking maybe some beef broth with some vinegar, but I then remember that most vinegar is just sour wine, and I'm not sure I can use that.
I consult various YouTube videos and web sites, where I learn a lot also about halal that I didn't know before. Different sheikhs and other experts on halal agree on vinegar about as much as the rabbis agree on kitniyot, and at this point I am thinking about the Middle East and wondering what the hell we're fighting over because aren't we awfully similar, especially the arguing? And actually, that kind of makes it all make sense when you think about it.
I call two Middle Eastern groceries and ask what vinegars are halal. The owner of one of them says he doesn't know, and the other says all vinegars are halal because they cannot make you intoxicated. And yet some of the YouTube experts said differently. 
Anyway, since at this point I want to be sure our guests can eat this brisket (assuming they aren't vegetarian but one wheelhouse at a time), because far be it for me to make matters worse. So one web site suggests cranberry juice. BRILLIANT! I just happen to have a bottle. So I mix a half-cup of cranberry juice with a half-cup of water, toss in about a teaspoon of sugar, and what I get is a reasonable approximation of cheap pinot noir from Aldi, which is my cooking wine of choice. 
At last I am prepared to make my customary brisket recipe (below, and it works for any pot roast), satisfied that it will be OK for all but the Orthodox, but this seder is for Humanistic Judaism which is kind of Judaism for atheists, agnostics, the intermarried, and other heathens. I make the recipe using the Trader Joe's briskets and four oven-hours later it's done to perfection and lo and behold, the cranberry juice worked!
I made the other brisket the next day, and brought a huge pan of brisket and carrots, with gravy consisting of the pan juices, onions and carrots pureed with an immersion blender, and people commented on how moist it is, which is really, along with cake, one of the rare times you WANT to hear the word "moist."
And you too can make this delicious brisket. Use any pot roast cut you like, it's just as delicious. Cook the onions longer than it says to; you want that sweetness when they start turning a bit brown.
For those celebrating, I wish you a zissen Pesach! And I hope that someday we can all stop arguing.