Game of Thrones (GoT) is a TV show you may have heard of. It’s got dragons, looks a little medieval, and is (loosely? Can I say that?) based on the fantastic A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. It airs in the springtime on HBO, featuring some great acting and fantastic effects. For the last six years, I have hosted or co-hosted a big, themed dinner for the season premier, replete with mulled wine and lots of red meat. The sixth season aired in late April, and I want to tell you about this great party you weren’t invited to.
What food is GoT-worthy?
In years past, I have stuck to red meat for the main dish at my Game of Thrones premier parties. Red and game meat is a mainstay of many a meal in the books and the episodes, so it’s only fitting. As I don’t often have access to venison or other game, it ends up being beef stew or pot roast. You can’t go wrong serving potatoes with red meat, so I’ve done hasselback potatoes or a hash on multiple occasions.
Accompanying the meat and taters is, of course, mulled wine. Hedge your bets and use a pre-made blend of mulling spices, and if you add a diced pink lady apple or two to the crockpot with said spices, it looks just TERRIBLY fancy. I have had unpleasant experiences when the wine sits for less than two hours with the spices, so I would recommend that as a minimum. It also helps to avoid testing it every 30 minutes until guests arrive, and end up too drunk to register the plot of the show you’re gathering to watch. Just a suggestion.
When coming up with the menu for this year’s premier, I wanted to do something other than a roast or stew. I dug about in my recipes for a while and came upon a fairly time-consuming recipe for brisket; it seemed like an appropriately challenging dish that could yield good results. The recipe called for a cut to be cooked with dried apricots and prunes, and for some reason, dishes of dried fruit and meat seem very “Game of Thrones”-esque to me.
I further deviated from my previous GoT party menus by declaring “NO MORE POTATOES!”, thoroughly startling my cats who were lounging nearby. The kitchen gods decided dried fruit was this meals’ theme, and I obeyed in making an orzo salad with goat cheese, hazelnuts, and golden raisins. Fortune smiled upon me. However, the feast did not seem complete with just these two rich dishes, requiring hours of cooking. I needed something lighter and simpler to round it out. I went to Whole Foods, as one does, for inspiration; there, shimmering in the sunlight, was a bundle of white asparagus.
Winter is Coming
Prepping for the meal started over a week beforehand when I began the search for three to four pounds of second cut, or point cut, brisket. When I emailed my local butcher* I got a quick response and pricing, giving a green light to the main course. The rest of the ingredients were not too difficult to obtain.
For a meal like this one, which requires a fair amount of procedures for each dish, I have a ritual of sitting down and writing out the steps and combining them into one overall plan with time markers included. When I am making a big meal for friends, I would otherwise end up finishing way too early while the food sits and congeals at room temperature or, worse, gets overcooked as it sits and steams under foil.
The menu required blocking off half a day for cooking, about six hours total, from searing the meat in the dutch oven to making the dressing for the white asparagus and the orzo salad. There were numerous things I learned due to silly mistakes or general lack of knowledge:
- How does one effectively remove hazelnut skins? I tried roasting, and read about boiling, but those suckers are pretty annoying to peel.
- No, it’s not an echo: how does one effectively peel white asparagus? I picked at the bottoms, used a veggie peeler, and snapped a few stalks in the process. Très disappointing.
- I learned that my 3 quart dutch oven is too small for four pounds of meat. I seared the meat in two batches, but could not fit but 75% of the liquid required in the pot with the meat. Though it turned out all right in the end, I can only imagine how much MORE tender the brisket could have been…
- What type of knife is best used to cut brisket? I could not manage to get it into ¼ slices with my normal meat-cutting knife.
How the North was Won
The premier party dinner started at around 8 p.m. The mulled wine was supplemented with Game of Thrones themed beers, of which there are MANY, I discovered. All sufficiently full of alcohol.
The brisket was quite tender despite not using the full amount of liquid in the recipe. The liquid, which I reduced for a while after removing the meat, was hearty and not too sweet, which was a surprise given the addition of the dried fruit. The flavor was pleasant though I may try different herbs in this recipe if made again. The orzo salad, with a sesame oil based dressing, had a very strong flavor and was not what people expected (in a good way, I take it, as it was the first thing to disappear). I made a note to use half the oil the recipe calls for if making this salad again. I wanted a more balanced dressing and the yield was far too much for dressing the salad anyway! Finally, the asparagus looked nice on the plate, but I wished the dressing was more mustard-heavy.
Links to the recipes I used for this meal are below. The brisket, and the party were enjoyed by all. It may have been my most successful Game of Thrones premier party yet, and I have a few great recipe developers to thank for it:
*Prior to this experience, he was A local butcher, but now he is MY local butcher.