Sunday, September 6, 2009

[Trying to make] Brik. Or, why Julie Powell is dangerous.

[Continuing to explore Tunisian cuisine through Tessa Mallos' North African Cooking cookbook...]

I had to leave the kitchen. I put down my implements, left the hot deep-frying oil, marched into the bathroom, and dissolved into tears. Actually, I just crumpled and the wails erupted on their on. Have you read Julie and Julia? It was much more Julie Powell than Amy Adams, complete with irrational declarations that, clearly, the universe was over. Obvi. (Image from

I had tried to make Brik. I had failed. The wrappers were brittle and were breaking, they weren't sealing around the filling, the egg yolks were bursting, the oil wasn't hot enough so the result was soggy, oily, egg-y, mess. Every single fire alarm in our apartment went off during the first minute and a half of my endeavor. Boiling oil splattered all over the clean stovetop, my clothes, my bare arms, everything. It was a DISASTER.

In one of Do's few memories of his great-grandmother, he was thirteen and visiting extended family in Paris, and his Tunisian great-grandmother made him brik. He still recounts the event with wonder and adoration. Brik are, essentially, deep-fried dough pockets filled with raw egg and a salty filling. The recipe in North African Cooking calls for anchovies and capers. About a teaspoon of the filling and a small raw egg get dumped into the center of a wonton wrapper (actual Brik dough is super time-consuming to make, my used-to-live-in-Algeria Mom informs me), the wonton wrapper seals around the filling, and the whole thing gets deep fried until barely crispy. As Do puts it: "It's salty, deep fat fried egg. What's not to like?" (The photo above is clearly not my creation. It was taken by Sheryl of the Crispy Waffle blog during her vacation in Tunisia, and can be found here.)

Fiasco. Bawling in the bathroom.

::Do Grabs The Talkie Stick ::

So, anyone that lives with a foodie knows all about managing explosions in the kitchen. I have generated a little check-list for myself.
After hearing loud shrieking/sobbing from Neen while she is cooking:
1. Check to make sure all limbs are attached. [If no - proceed to emergency first aid routine]
2. Remove any fire hazards from heat. (If something might overcook - remove that from heat too.)
3. Attend to Neen.

There were no missing limbs in this situation, but there was a fire hazards - so I turned the heat off on the oil before proceeding back to the bathroom to find out what was eating Neen. Now, it is worth mentioning that this is a VERY hard recipe, and I had known it from the start. I had tried unsuccessfully to convince her of this. So when Neen felt like she just couldn't make it work, the resulting meltdown was not completely unexpected.

[Neen: insertion] Actually, Do was trying very hard not to giggle. We had just seen Julie & Julia that afternoon, so the over-the-top explosion was just too stereotypical for words. Of course, his trying to suppress his smirk made me giggle... which was naturally followed by an especially loud wail to prove I was serious. [/Neen insertion]

Thankfully the solution to my portion of this problem was VERY easy - I just had her take bite out of one of the "failed" Brik she had just made. Fabulous - melt in in your mouth, salty, and rich. Everything Brik should be. So they weren't picture perfect, so what? Some of the wrappers didn't shut, but upon returning to the kitchen we realized that (of course) you are supposed to soak the wonton wrappers in water before using them - the recipe hadn't of course mentioned that! Once we corrected for this issue, we actually turned out some impressive-looking ones.

The happy ending to this story was a delicious meal of brik and white wine, set to candlelight. Perfection.

Neen: Yeah. Still not happening again any time soon. I'll wait to get hands-on instruction from the experts the next time we visit Do's family in Paris.

Brik bil Ancouwa (Brik with Anchovies)
a package of large spring roll wrappers
1 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 Tbs fniely chopped canned anchovies
2 Tbs chopped parsely
3 tsp capers, drained
oil for frying
Small fresh eggs (Neen: this is critical)

Heat olive in oil in a small frying pan. Add onion and cook gently until very soft and translucent (~12-15min), stirring often. Add anchovies and mash in. Remove pan from heat, stir in parsely, capers, and add pepper to taste. Let cool.

Separate spring roll wrappers and soak ~5 or 6 in a bowl with cold water, to soften them. Add oil for shallow=-frying to a depth of 1/4" in a 10" frying pan and heat well. Open all the windows in your kitchen. Turn on air vent. Prepare your partner/brother/sister/child to handle the fire alarms if/when they go off.

Place one soft wrapped on a plate. Add ~1 Tbs anchovy filling in a heap on one side,with the edge of the filling just touching center. Make an indent in the filling and break one egg into it. Fold the wrapper over to enclose the filling and press the edges to seal. Try not to break the egg yolk, but if you do it's okay.

Slide brik immediately into the hot oil and shallow fry until golden brown and crisp, about 45 seconds on each side. Lift out and drain on paper towles. Repeat with remaining brik/filling. Serve immediately.

1 comment:

karen said...

I award you my deepest admiration. I find deep fat frying extremely difficult at best. At worst is your description. I'm also a coward. I know the reputation of brik and never, ever in my wildest dreams would consider making it. I like to control my disasters. I'll accept a kitchen mess if the result is good. But when the potential offers both a kitchen and a culinary mess, I chicken out. BRAVO for your tenacity!