The Remix: Cholent | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

The Remix: Cholent

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Make cholent not because it’s traditional and easy, but because it’s delicious.

This is the next installment in our series The Remix, in which we seek to gently rework the more challenging dishes in the Jewish culinary canon. With a little bit of love, we’re convinced we can make any dish delicious, even ones that seem a bit bizarre to the modern palate.

Theoretically, cholent doesn’t need remixing at all. The slow simmered stew of beef, root vegetables and beans is typically started pre-Shabbat, and finished 12-15 hours later in time for a warm meal. Well played, ancestors. The only problem is that often, the meal isn’t worth waiting for. Cholent meat can be chewy and dry, and the broth flavorless. How to unlock the secrets of this ancient stew?

Making this task more confusing, there are nearly as many ways to cook cholent as there are ways to spell Hanukkah. As in, a lot. Depending on your background and preferences, it can be sweet or savory, thick or brothy. What kind of beans? Potatoes, yay or nay? Carrots? Barley? Eggs? What spices?

Perhaps the variations aren’t so surprising, considering how old cholent is. Cholent originated in the late 12th century in France, the name most likely derived from the old French word for warm, chalt, according to Jewish historian Gil Marks in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. Makes sense. Back then, the stew cooked in large ceramic pots over fires.

Women would schlep their prepped cholent to bakers and cook the stew in their large brick ovens. Even those with wood-burning stoves at home could not maintain the heat for the up to 18 hours it took to cook the cholent. Some even sealed their pots with dough that baked with the stew. I’d like to bring that tradition back, maybe in a future Remix column. In the meantime, here’s a handy list of cholent dos and don’ts to ensure you can reliably produce a savory, silken version of this beloved Shabbat stew.

Cholent don’t

1. No slow cooker. The caramelization you get from oven cooking can’t be mimicked, and it adds much-needed flavor.

2. Don’t skip browning the meat. Take your time; it adds so much flavor.

3. Resist the temptation to add a lot of liquid. You don’t have to fill the pot to the top! Just barely cover the veggies and your broth will reduce as you look into a thick, silky stew.

4. Don’t chop your vegetables carelessly; make the pieces about the same size so they cook evenly. That way, you won’t have mush carrots and raw potatoes.

5. Never let the broth come to a boil. This is a recipe for tough meat.

6. Canned beans are a no-no. Soak dried beans instead; it’s worth the extra step.

Cholent do

1. Use chuck roast; it’s affordable and flavorful.

3. To give the meat that appetizing color, brown it in batches.

4. Cook the roast in a mixture of wine and water instead of just water, for more flavor.

5. If possible, use the marrow bones for extra beefy flavor and a rich mouth-feel to the broth.

6. Consider adopting the Sephardic tradition of cooking eggs in the cholent; they turn a pale caramel color and are tasty all on their own.

7. Customize your cholent. Switch up the beans; add in traditional barley; throw in a kishke to kick it old school.

8. It may seem weird in today’s fast food world to cook anything for over 12 hours. Relax and enjoy the process.

9. If your oven is unreliable, you can cook your cholent on the stovetop on a very low flame for about four hours, or until the meat is tender.

Amy Kritzer is a food writer and recipe developer in Austin, Texas. She blogs at What Jews Wanna Eat. 

Servings & Times
Yield:
  • 6-8 servings
Active Time:
  • 30 min
Total Time:
  • 4 hrs
Ingredients

2 cups navy beans (pinto beans, chickpeas, black beans, all work)

2-3 tablespoons grapeseed oil

2 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes, seasoned lightly with salt and cracked black pepper

1-pound marrow bones (optional)

2 white onions, cut into thin slices

2 garlic cloves, smashed

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, halved (waxy potatoes hold up best to the long cooking time.

1 cup carrots, sliced

6 eggs

2 cups dry red wine

Water

1 tablespoon salt, plus more for seasoning after cooking

2 teaspoons black pepper

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon cumin

Pinch cayenne

¼ cup minced parsley, for garnish

Steps
  1. The day before cooking, pick through the beans discarding any stones. Rinse well, and cover with covering at least by 2 inches in a large pot. Soak for one day.
  2. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
  3. In a large, heavy bottomed Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil over medium high heat and brown meat a few pieces at a time, about 2-3 minutes per side. Do not overcrowd pan, because the meat will not brown properly. Repeat with remaining meat and set aside.
  4. Add the marrow bones and brown about five minutes. Set aside.
  5. Lower heat to medium and add more oil if needed. Sauté onions while stirring for 7 minutes, or until slightly browned and wilted. Then add garlic and sauté another minute.
  6. Pour wine over onion mixture and deglaze by stirring onions and scraping off any pieces stuck to the bottom. Then add the meat and marrow bones back in.
  7. Drain the beans and add on top of the meat. Top with potatoes, carrots and eggs.
  8. Add just enough water to cover the mixture and then add seasonings through cayenne. Do not stir- stirring will break up beans.
  9. Bring to a light simmer and place in the oven. Check on the cholent before you go to sleep to make sure the water level hasn’t gotten too low.
  10. Your cholent is ready when meat is very tender and liquid has thickened up slightly. If you want a thicker stew, remove cover in oven or simmer on the stovetop for the last 30 minutes or so. Season with more salt to taste, though mine didn’t need any. If you are keeping the Sabbath, please obey your own customs when it comes to adding spices on Shabbat.
  11. Peel eggs and place cholent in bowls. Garnish with parsley and serve.