In the Jewish faith, you become an adult when you have your bar or bat mitzvah, usually at age 13. You drink wine, read from the Torah, celebrate with all your family and friends, and are recognized as an adult in the community.
I have another idea about coming of age as a Jew. I'm pretty sure the real test is when you make your first brisket for Passover (am I right, ladies?). A big part of Passover is the food, and as anyone who has prepared a seder can tell you, it's pretty stressful. This year, I decided to take on the enormous task of preparing seder for my boyfriend's entire family, ten people in all. Go big or go home, right? Keep in mind, Boyfriend and co. are Catholic. His mom offered to make veggies, and his sister-in-law handled hard boiling the eggs for me, but for the most part, I was on my own.
I had a plan though. The Friday before our seder (most people have their seders for Passover on the first or last night of the eight day celebration, but ours was on a Sunday because that's when we were all free), I made a list of everything I'd need. Matzah; apples, honey, almonds, and Manishevitz for the charosest; parsley, horseradish, and a shank bone for the seder plate; macaroons for dessert; and of course, the coupe de grace, the brisket. I headed to Engles (the Southern version of Kroger) first for the items I didn't need to pay a small fortune for, then made my way to Whole Foods for the meat.
I wasn't too worried about being able to secure a brisket. I mean, even though it was the first night of Passover, this was Greenville, SC. I'm pretty sure I was the only Jew within city limits. At the very least, I was one of a small few. So I felt pretty good about my chances. But just in case, I'd left myself an extra day buffer, should I need to reserve a brisket for the next day. I strolled up to the counter, took a look at the case, and confidently told the man working that I'd need a brisket. "Of course," he replied. "Let me go get one from the back." Smiling, I looked down at my list, double-checking to make sure I wasn't leaving anything off.
To my surprise, the guy came back a few minutes later, empty handed. It seemed they did have a brisket available, but a woman had called earlier and reserved one of the two remaining briskets, and he wasn't sure which one she wanted. "So, I can't sell you the other one until she picks hers up," he concluded, looking a little sheepish. Turns out, the guy who had taken this woman's order (not him) hadn't quite asked all the necessary questions (like which brisket did she want). Fortunately, his supervisor overheard him and decided to make an executive decision. She went in the back, looked over the briskets, and promptly returned, meat in hand. Or should I say, hands. It took her both hands to thump the thing up on the scale, all 4.9lbs of it. "Don't worry," she laughed, seeing the look on my face. "You don't have to buy the whole thing. How many people are you serving?" "Ten," I replied naively. The woman who had been my champion not ten seconds before turned on me. "Oh, you'll need this all then!" She proceeded to wrap up the largest piece of meat I'd ever seen and hand it to me. "Anything else?"
Okay, so it was a little bigger than I expected. No problem. I could adapt. I mean, I'd seen my mom and our family friend make briskets a thousand times. I could do this. After securing my make-shift lamb shank (they were out of shank bones of any kind, so I went with a sparerib instead), I marched my meat up to the checkout counter. $41 later (the most I've ever paid for a single piece of meat that wasn't cooked in a fancy restaurant), I was ready to go.
Next step was to prep it. Luckily, I checked out the recipe as soon as I got home, and noticed that it called for starting the brisket a day or two ahead of time, so I got up bright and early the next morning to start it. Because Boyfriend's parents keep a strict paleo-plus diet, I'd done some research and found a recipe that only used natural ingredients, with the exception of the red wine. But his parents love a little wine now and then, so I'd picked up a bottle of their favorite organic, no sulfites-added red. The change in recipe meant I was flying solo, instead of using my mom's familiar favorite. But no matter. I was determined for this to be the best brisket Boyfriend and co. had ever tasted (and for most of them, it was the only one, so I was pretty sure it would be). The recipe, from Meal & a Spiel, called for a dutch oven, used both on the stove top and in the oven. Since I didn't have a dutch oven, I was planning on using a pot to sear the brisket, then cook it in the crockpot. I'd seen my mom do it hundreds of times.
I chopped, diced, cleaned and cut all the vegetables while I heated the oil in my biggest pot. When the oil was bubbling, I pulled out my hulk of a brisket and unwrapped it. The pup, of course, was curled up underneath me, hoping for drippings. It took both hands to get the beast into the pot. It should have occurred to me then that the crockpot I'd been watching my mom use for years and the crockpot sitting in my cabinet were not the same. Instead, I was focused on the more immediate problem: the beast didn't fit in my pot. Instead, it was crammed in like a gigantic horseshoe. But no harm; I figured I'd just shift the hulk in each direction to sear the different sides, then flip and repeat.
Back on track, I began setting out the additional ingredients I'd need to add once the beast was safely in the crockpot. As soon as I pulled out my trusty crockpot, it hit me. My mom's crockpot is long and wide. Mine is tall and shallow. Just to make sure, I pulled the brisket out of the pot to check. Well, pull is probably the wrong word. I tried to grab one exposed end with my tongs, but the beast barely moved before the tongs slipped off the end. I couldn't grab it with both hands the way I'd placed it into the pot, since it was nice and hot now. So I got creative. I grabbed the grill tongs from outside, gave them a quick wash, and awkwardly fumbled with them in my left hand, while I used my original flimsy ones in my right hand. Twice the brisket fell back into the hot oil, but I finally cajoled the hulk out of the pot and over to the crockpot. Sure enough, it didn't fit. Not even close. I tried folding it, bending it, twisting it, but it was just too big for the crockpot.
Not sure what else to do, I managed to awkwardly twist the beast back into the hot pot to keep searing. I wracked my brain, and my cabinets, looking for something big enough to fit the hulk, along with the abundance of ingredients it needed to cook in. Finally, I found the Corningware Boyfriend's mom had given us for Christmas. It was definitely long enough, I just wasn't sure if it was deep enough, and I definitely didn't think the glass top could go in the oven. But it was basically my only option. So I preheated the oven and finished searing the beast. Then I wrangled it over to the Corningware, added the rest of the ingredients, and held my breath as I covered it all in the special red wine. I didn't get to add as much wine as I was anticipating (the recipe called for a bottle, plus chicken broth if the wine wasn't enough), but it covered the brisket. That was about all I could ask for at that point. Then I covered the whole thing with foil (the very last bit of the roll, by the way. It literally was enough to tightly cover the pan. Talk about a miracle), set the time for five hours, and stuck the whole thing in the oven. I managed to only spill the tiniest little bit of red wine, so I called it a success.
Fast forward five hours. I pulled out the brisket and turned off the oven. As per the recipe, I pulled the beast out of all it's juices and set it aside to cool. At this point, I was starting to worry this wouldn't even be a good brisket, much less the best brisket Boyfriend and co. had ever eaten. But when I pulled the brisket out, it was falling apart like it was supposed to, so I decided to press on. I mean, what else was I going to do? When you're the only one cooking dinner for ten, you don't really have much wiggle room. Since it was getting late, I decided to put the potatoes off till the next day. I covered the juices and stuck them all in the fridge.
The next morning, I pulled the juices out of the fridge and stuck them back in my biggest pot (cleaned since the searing, of course). I heated them up and stuck in the potato pieces, leaving them to cook on the stovetop while I sliced the brisket and arranged it back in the Corningware (I swear, those things are the best!). Knowing how long potatoes usually take to cook, I figured I was safe to run a few errands (and stop at Starbucks for my morning jolt). As I was heading home, Boyfriend called to tell me the potatoes were so done they were sticking to the bottom, and that my juices had reduced so much they were a sauce (as they're supposed to, by the way). He said he'd added water to keep the potatoes from sticking and burning. Don't worry. I only had a minor heart attack hearing that. "Don't touch it!" I said, immediately contradicting myself by asking him to take it off the heat. I raced home, worried the added water had ruined my sauce.
I should point out that I'm a bit of a drama queen, and Boyfriend exaggerates a little. The potatoes were perfectly soft, falling apart just like the brisket, and there was plenty of sauce in the pot. I took my sliced brisket out of the fridge and added the potatoes and sauce. It was beautiful! After recovering it with the foil, we were ready to head to his parents' house, the brisket buckled in my lap and the rest of Passover secured in several bags behind my seat.
By the time we sat down to eat, the hulk had been reheated and was back to falling apart. I served up slices to everyone at the table, and Boyfriend himself proclaimed the great beast "delicious, the best brisket" he'd ever had. As I sliced into my own piece and sipped my red wine from my seat at the head of the table (just for the night), I realized I was finally an adult. I'd taken on the great brisket challenge and defeated the beast. I had conquered the Hulk. My bat mitzvah might go down as one of my parents' proudest moments, but I'm pretty sure I was just as proud of that damn brisket.
Moral of the story? One: when you're making a brisket, make sure your pot of choice is big enough for the brisket before you start. Two: make sure you're not at the end of your roll of foil. Three: don't leave Boyfriend minding the potatoes without leaving him the recipe. And four: always keep a big glass of red wine in your hand. When all else fails, do like the Haggadah tells you and drink your glass of wine.