Sunday, January 3, 2010

Brik by brik...

The Divine Miss M came to town recently. No, I don't mean Bette Midler, I am speaking of the other divine one, culinary diva extraordinaire, Marlena Spieler.

If you live in the SF Bay Area and you're likely familiar with Marlena from her regular column in the Chronicle's food section, The Roving Feast. If you live elsewhere you may have a copy of at least one of the almost seventy - that's right, seventy - cookbooks she has penned over the years. Not near SF nor a cookbook owner? Then maybe you've read her über-ebullient Facebook posts on the joys of cooking, making, and/or eating kippers, cheeses, kimchee, pasta, pumpernickel, and more.

I was introduced to Marlena's work in 1995 by Annaliese, who was opening a restaurant in Santa Cruz and asked me to help get it up and running. At our first meeting I asked her what her vision for the restaurant was and she gushed "Sun-drenched cuisine!" referring to a book of "lusty foods and robust recipes" by Marlena Spieler.

Flash forward to November 2009 in Happy Valley. My foodie pal Sonia Bañuelos introduced me to Marlena over dinner and by the next day we were, the three of us, in cahoots and "in production," in my kitchen making a little video of Marlena preparing brik a l'oeuf. "It's so easy, it just takes a minute or two.", sez Marlena. "Phyllo, a minute or two?" thinks me.

In my years of catering I flag-folded hundreds of phyllo-wrapped appetizers every week, and "easy" is not a word I had ever used to describe working with it, more like "fiddly" and "fussy." But there was Marlena in my kitchen with her handbag full of flavorful goodies y voila! in a minute or two she had a brik in the pan, few minutes more and we were savoring its crispy, unctuous, spicy goodness.Since that day I've been spreading the Word of Marlena and cooking brik a l'oeuf for friends on both coasts, telling all who'll listen that working with phyllo can, in fact, be easy. An not brushing each sheet of pastry with butter means this really is super quick - and much lighter than the butter-soaked phyllo dishes I'd made before. Here is the recipe, such as it is (more of a suggestion, really), for each brik:

1 sheet of phyllo pastry
finely chopped onion
minced garlic
preserved lemons, chopped
harissa sauce
chopped fresh herbs - parsley, dill, mint, cilantro
1 egg
Oil for cooking

Preheat oven to 400. Heat oil in saute pan over medium high heat. Place phyllo on flat surface. Place all ingredients on pastry and quickly fold up like a flag to enclose all. Place in saute pan and brown on both sides. Place in 400 oven cook for 5 minutes; whites should be set and yolk should still be runny. Marlena mixed up a quick 'salsa" of the filling components - herbs, lemons, harissa, onion, and garlic - and served that alongside the brik, which I loved; it made each bite flavor saturated.

My tips: It works to place the herbs, lemon, harissa, etc. evenly across the pastry so that when you cut into it you'll get a little bit of everything in each bite. Put the egg in last, otherwise the pastry starts to get soggy and that makes it harder to handle. Also, doing this means you can put the egg in the center of everything and have a chance of it saying there. (I said a chance, it is still a raw egg with a mind of its own, after all.) Somewhere online I saw someone assemble their brik in a shallow bowl, I tried that and it does help keep things in place.

What I learned from watching Marlena: Loosen up around phyllo dough! The pastry doesn't have to be perfectly folded, nor does it matter if it cracks, it will all brown up nicely in the pan. I've even grabbed a second sheet at the last minute and used it to rescue a bursting brik. And I've completely given up the flag-fold in favor of free-form.

The part of the recipe that I am still working on perfecting is the cooking of the egg. Five minutes in a 400 oven is a good place to start, but the amount of time it takes to fry the pastry to golden brown depends on many things, obviously, and, once the egg is inside the crispy pastry I'm still a little lost as to how to tell how done it is. Hmmm, pobrecita mia, I might have to make a few more brik this week to see if I can figure that one out.
Take a look at these two other great blog posts about brik: Cooking Shmooking and Just the Two of Us.


  1. i love meeting p with oher food bloggers - always lots of fun, with good food to match!

  2. I did do the Brik for my blog and I didn't think it was so eggs were running everywhere! I came to the conclusion that the fresher the eggs the less runny the whites tend to be. I'm still game to try it again..
    Thanks for linking me up!

    Just the 2 of Us

  3. Mmmm.... Made brik again tonight with my friend Tim and these were the best yet.

    We went wild - all the usual ingredients but also very creamy feta was added. And for the first time I put tuna and egg together.

    The 5 minutes in a 400 oven really seems to be the secret to cooked-but-still-runny eggs.

    Did I say mmmmmm? MMMMMM!

  4. Guess what?! Brik is going on the Jewish cuisine menu that I am doing for the culinary arts program at American River College!

    oy vey!


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