Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Passover of the Frozen Brisket

I’m sure you’ve all followed my Passover preparation as reported in the Wall Street Journal, but if not, here it is:

And then there was Bob’s funny blog post where he talks about the word “mafan,” which means hassle. I’ve been a bit too busy to decide whether any of the obstacles I’ve encountered would qualify as full-fledged mafan, but I’ve certainly had a few mini-mafan moments. (To get on his In Lieu of Blog email list, send him an email at

All big feasts in Beijing begin with a trip to Sanyuanli, the treif-intensive center for lots and lots of food: fruit, veggies, carcasses that seem to be the remains of pigs, cows, goats, chickens, tofu, imported products like chocolate and breakfast cereal, tea, nuts, dried fruits, and even a shop selling pet food. Oh, and yummy 1-RMB baozi, which, if they are fresh, are the best 1 RMB purchase you can make, as long as you don’t try eating one while you head into the meat section, which has this whole bloody, stockyard aroma.

We loaded up on veggies and fruit, bypassed the meats except for some chicken wings for making chicken stock, and headed back home.

I began with a walnut-date torte. The issue, which I learned after I had looked up “dates” on my TrainChinese app and purchased “hong zao,” is that dates in China are not like dates in the Middle East or America. They’re closer to dried apples, little brick-red balls with all the moisture sucked out of them. Add in some toasted walnuts and you’ve got a substance that could have been used to build the Great Wall. But the torte is done. We can’t even improve it with whipped cream, since that would make the whole thing not kosher for Passover.

(I just deleted an entire rant about editors who don’t know from kosher. Just because I’m Reb Deb doesn’t mean that the whole world knows how to kosher a microwave. And I’m more self-actualized now. As in today, not Friday.)

I moved on to matzo balls, having made my chicken stock on Saturday. Now my matzo ball recipe this year came from a link I found from the Second Avenue Deli, the New York mecca (so to speak) for all good things to eat, Jewish-style. This recipe called for baking powder. I googled, “Is baking powder kosher for Passover?” and came up with a list of ambiguous answers that tended to lean in the direction of “yes.” (To be perfectly accurate, I think I would have needed to buy special kosher-for-Passover baking powder, but that’s splitting hairs. Who will know? I mean, except any guests who happen to read this…)

The whole argument for this recipe is that the matzo balls were supposed to be nice and light. I formed them. They dropped into the boiling water like little wheat-colored turds, sinking straight to the bottom of the pot. Hmmmmm. They did eventually rise and bobble on the top of the water. I tried one. “Light” was not the word that came to mind. Maybe the awesomeness of my chicken stock will outweigh the leaden nature of the balls. I’m beginning to see a theme here.

Next up is the brisket, which I wanted to start the day before, using the philosophy that all brisket is better the second day. After some back and forth by email, I ordered a half a cow’s worth of brisket from Schindler’s a German butcher in town. One of our guests offered to pick it up for me.

He called me from Schindler’s. No record of my order. No unfrozen brisket. We punted and purchased instead three large slabs of very frozen brisket instead. These slabs, which could be used to knock out a German butcher who loses your order, are now floating in hot water in my bathtub, a suggestion from another Passover guest who came by to drop off chairs.

I did make a chocolate-almond torte, using Hershey’s semi-sweet chocolate chips I brought from my last trip home. It looks and smells promising, less brick-like than the other items on the menu.

I still have to make kugel, tsimmes, and to figure out the table arrangements for tomorrow. If I have time, there will be an update.  I’m hoping that it will all prove entertaining. But not so entertaining that I tell myself, "well, at least there's a blog post."


  1. I just discovered the baking powder thing last year. Can't believe I missed out on it for so long! Ian

  2. Ian, I hope my guests don't mind! Happy Passover to you and yours!