Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Herodotus' Egyptian Stuffed Brisket

Herodotus is definitely the most fun place to look for ancient world recipes. Today we go to book II, section 40 of his Histories and make the dish he says the Egyptians made for the most important festival of their year. The Egyptians skin a bull and then, "they cut off its legs, the very end of its rump, its shoulder and its neck. Next, they fill the remainder of the bull's body with purified loaves, honey, raisins, frankincense, myrrh, and other perfumed spices, and then they roast it all." Tr: Waterfield
Herodotus' Egyptian Stuffed Brisket
1 brisket (12-15 pounds)
loaf of challah bread
dried apricots
dried cherries
ras al hanout spice blend or cumin
olive oil
1) Ok, we are not going to use a whole cow. But to try to imitate the specified entire body, I substitute the brisket, which is essentially the breast of the cow. This is also coincidentally a great cut to stuff and slow roast.
2) Butterfly the brisket (cut it down the middle lengthwise so you can open it up like a book). Here it is pre-butterfly:
Here it is after being butterflied:
3) Now, rub it all over with olive oil. Then, cover it with a layer of the dried fruits and spices. Spices to add include salt, pepper, cumin, aleppo pepper, ras al hanout spice blend or any other moroccan spice blend. Really, whatever "perfumed spices" to you!

4) Now for the challah. I justify the substitution of challah for the "purified loaves" as follows. In response to Herodotus, an Egyptian priest named Manetho wrote a history of Egypt in Greek (from this text, among other things we get not only the Egyptian dynasties, but even the name dynasty). In this text, Manetho claims that the Jews adopted all the Egyptian dietary laws, except that the Jews made the laws less stringent. So, I am saying that the closest we can get to the holy bread of the Egyptians is the holy bread of the Jews, in this case the challah. Also, it is a great bread for stuffings. So, tear up the bread into chunks and start layering on the meat:
When finished it should look like this and be ready to rollup:
4) Alright, time for the fun step! Grab that meat by the short end and roll it like a jelly roll! Don't be squeamish, just grab the sucker and rollrollroll!
When rolled it will look like this and be ready to be tied.
For tying the beef I recommend growing two more arms as I did in the picture below. It is much easier with four arms.
I just tie it with a series of knots like this:
And it is ready to be cooked!
5) Get your roasting pan hot on the stove. Then brown the beef all over in olive oil before transferring the the oven at 350 degrees.
Brown it all over
Here is beefy close up!
So, roast it around 4 hours. It should be delicious at this point. Pull it out of the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Here is a really fun step, pour honey over the hot roast! If you have earlier rubbed cumin on the roast, the smell of the honey hitting the hot, cumin-y crust of the beef is amazing! Then, make sure to let this giant roast sit for about 20 minutes. Then cut it into slices that will get a cross section of the whole rolled roast. Enjoy!

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