My favorite part of creating a cuisine for a fictional world is how it pushes Alan and me to create something new from something familiar. And for a Jew, what is more familiar than brisket for Passover? This recipe bears little resemblance to my mother’s brisket, which apparently entailed lots of onions and jarred chili sauce. When I told her that we planned to use cocoa powder and coffee, she asked me to repeat myself. After several minutes of digesting what I said, I think she came to the conclusion that it might actually taste good.
My Childhood Passover Experience
When I was a child, Passover meant going to my great aunt’s house. We would sit at a heavily laden table, but could not eat until we finished plowing through the first part of the seder (the at-home Passover service). As with most Jewish seders from that era, we used a Haggadah (the text for the seder) that we called the Maxwell House Haggadah. I’m not quite sure why we called it that, but I do know that as a child, I found it unbearably long.
If I remember correctly, about twenty five people came to my aunt’s seder every year, most of whom we only saw on Passover. The honored elders sat at the head of the table and the young people sat at the far end, not at the kid’s table mind you, but far away from the more serious guests. My favorite guests included my mother’s first cousin who often regaled us with humorous stories from his service during World War II. I also loved seeing his mother and mother-in-law, neither of whom spoke much, probably because English wasn’t their first language. But they didn’t need to speak to make an impression on me. They were beautiful elderly women who emanated so much life experience it seemed an honor to be in the same room with them. One was a gypsy with such a wrinkled face that her wrinkles had wrinkles. Yet, I thought she was stunning. Then there was my cousin, who was probably as old as my grandparents. She was a rebel back when people weren’t rebels. One day I need to write a blog post just about her.
Back to my Fantasy World-building
As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I created holidays for my fantasy world, including a spring holiday that looks suspiciously like Passover. This recipe reflects what the Telem tribe would eat for that holiday. It uses chilies, coffee, and chocolate, none of which grow in the Telem region. However, the Telem believe in trade, especially for awesome ingredients. I will write more about the Telem tribe in my next post. Now for the recipe:
½ cup Kosher salt
¼ cup black pepper
1 Tbsp garlic power
1 Tbsp onion powder
2 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp ground New Mexican chile
1 Tbsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp coriander
1 Tbsp cumin
2 Tbsp cinnamon
¼ cup coffee- finely ground
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
6-8 pound brisket
1 large onion- large dice
2 large carrots- large dice
1 large celery stalk- large dice
6-8 cloves garlic- minced
3 Tbsp fresh ginger (2-3 inch piece)- minced
3 tsp thyme
3 tsp sage
2 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cloves
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 small can tomato paste
14 ounce can diced tomato
1 cup dark coffee
2 cups red wine
4 cups mushroom stock (or beef stock)
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup chopped bittersweet chocolate (chocolate chips work well)
1-2 tsp coconut vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2-3 Tbsp additional brown sugar
2 Tbsp butter (omit if you wish to keep it kosher)
1. Coat the brisket with the spice rub and rub it in. Cover the meat and refrigerate for at least eight hours, preferably overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 325°F
3. Heat a large roasting pan on the stove and add enough oil to coat the bottom. Sear the brisket, fat side down, in the pan, approximately 3-5 minutes; turn the brisket over and sear the other side for about 3 minutes.
4. Remove the brisket and set side. Turn the flame to medium-low and sweat the onion, carrot, and celery for about 5 minutes, until they start to soften. Add the garlic and ginger. Continue to sweat for another 5 minutes.
5. Add the thyme, sage, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, tomato paste, and diced tomato. Stir to combine. Add the coffee, wine, and stock. Stir in the sugar and cocoa powder. Add the chocolate and stir everything together. Return the brisket back to the pan, fat side up. Cover tightly with foil.
6. Place the pan in the oven and cook for 2½ to 3 hours. Check after 90 minutes. Add more stock if needed. Check again every 30 minutes. If the liquid has reduced too low, add more stock. The meat should be at least half submerged in liquid.
7. When done, remove the brisket from the pan and place on a cutting board to rest.
8. Pour the braising liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a pot. Allow the liquid to cool a bit. When the fat rises to the surface, place a paper towel just on the surface to absorb the excess fat. Repeat until you’ve thoroughly degreased the liquid.
9. Return the liquid to the heat. If necessary, reduce until the liquid coats the back of a spoon. Add brown sugar to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. The sauce should be neither sweet nor bitter, but balanced, with a subtle chocolate flavor. Add just enough vinegar to brighten the sauce. If not keeping kosher, swirl in the butter to finish.
10. Slice the brisket just prior to serving. Ladle sauce over meat.