I love my brother in law, G. He knows what he likes, and what he likes is beef. And so do I. So every Passover since 1990, ‘to make G happy,’ I roasted a whole prime rib of beef.
I bought a whole prime rib the first time because the kosher butcher in San Jose I ordered it promised me a would be cheaper price per pound for me if he did not have to cut it up. So I told him OK, not knowing what a whole prime rib looked like, weighed, how much it would cost, or ever having cooked one before. I had eaten prime rib in restaurants, though, and liked it. The butcher referred me to had several excellent cookbooks which I had at home, and promised I could call him up if I got into trouble. And my mother was with me at the time, and liked the butcher, and wanted to support his business. So fine, I said to the butcher, order me a whole prime rib, whatever.
When I got the call that my order was ready and I came to pick it up, and I saw that a whole prime rib was a hunk of meat trussed up in string netting, that was almost a foot wide, and almost a yard long, cost $18 a pound AFTER the discount, and weighing in at 18 pounds, cost over 300 bucks.
This afterthought to my Seder, which I had only gotten to make G happy and give him an alternative to turkey (and to be fair, because I hate brisket), spoke up for itself and said “I am not a piece of fruit! ATTENTION MUST BE PAID!” So I NAMED the thing, called it The Beast, and duly added it to my Passover shopping list along with wine, matzas, potatoes, and dozens of eggs.
Traditional Passover is not a holiday for the heart healthy. If our forefathers in Europe had been able to afford adequate quantities of the traditional foods like brisket and potato kugel for dinner and matza brei and sour cream for lunch, they would have dropped dead in the Old Country of heart disease long before they emigrated to America. But that is another story.
We all loved The Beast, our own Passover sacrifice. I laced it with garlic just like Julia Child showed me on TV. I rubbed it with salt and spices. I lay it on a bed of peeled and quartered potatoes, which absorbed the garlicky and spicy drippings form the meat and became delicacies in their own right, The Beast was fragrant and fatty and beefy and crisp, just what our ancient hunter-gatherer metabolisms crave.
But the ancient hunter-gatherers died young. And G. almost died young, after he had two angioplasties 6 months apart in 2010. The Beast got kicked off the Passover shopping list in 2011. The fish and white meat turkey meatballs and lowfat kugel made with egg substitute, and lowfat vegetable kugel made with spinach, fennel, peppers and carrots remained in the menu. I knew this menu would not please G, so I started looking for an alternative to the Beast.
I needed to serve something that was rich and good to chew, and a deep brown, to contrast with the light brown turkey meatballs and pinkish planked salmon, and green vegetables I serve. I found a recipe for Passover brisket in the New York Times from a New Orleans chef, and, since G loves mushrooms and wine, decided that these fusion of Cajun and Asian flavors would work just as well for Portobello mushrooms as point cut brisket. And they do.
The mushrooms are a very different type of trouble to make than The Beast, which drove my entire Passover preparations (step 1 to making Pesach was: Empty freezer completely to make room for Beast) and lasted right through the 8 days, but they were a big hit.
Mushroom Ragout with wine, almonds and dried plums
- 10 extra large Portobello mushrooms, sliced diagonally into slices 1/2 inch thick
- Salt and black pepper
- Safflower oil and PAM, for frying.
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and smashed
- 1 cups Concord grape wine (like Manishewitz)
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 cups pitted prunes
- 1 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
- 4 ounces shiitake, crimini or other mushrooms, diced
- 1/2 cup (loosely packed) chopped parsley
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1 clove
- 1 star anise
- Zest of 1 orange, in strips
- 1 can condensed chicken stock, and water to cover.
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Season portobello mushrooms with salt and pepper. Place a heavy wide pan over medium-high heat. Add oil and heat until shimmering. Add mushroom slices and brown well on both sides. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add onion, carrots, celery, garlic and ginger to the pan, and stir until the onions begin to brown, about 3 minutes. Add both wines, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Simmer until reduced by half, about 10 minutes.
3. In a large Dutch oven or heavy braising pan, combine 1 cup of the prunes, 1/4 cup almonds, and the chopped mushrooms. In a piece of cheesecloth, tie up 1/4 cup of the parsley with the thyme, bay leaf, cinnamon, clove, star anise and orange zest, and add to the pot. Add the mushroom slices, the vegetable mixture in its reduces wine sauce, and the chicken soup. Add water to cover. Place over high heat to bring to a boil, then transfer to the oven.Cook, covered for another hour.
Garnish with remaining 1/4 cup parsley and 1/4 cup almonds.
Yield:10 to 14 servings.