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Penny Pinching Epicure: I'm a Cholent Nerd

Monday, October 26, 2009

I'm a Cholent Nerd

I admit that I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to cooking, but I believe it has helped me perfect cholent-making.

Cholent is traditional Jewish stew that one cooks on low for a long period of time, usually to have for lunch on the Sabbath. I've had good cholent, but because it cooks for so long (14-16 hours), the meat is frequently dried out and tough.

Cholent making tip #1: Layer your ingredients.

I did a little reading up on crockpot cookery. It cooks food in two ways: Rising heat and surrounding heat. Because of the construction of the heating elements in crockpots, the bottom and middle of the crockpot are cooked with both rising and surrounding heat, which things toward the top are cooked with mostly rising heat.

Because you are cooking the cholent for so long, you want to make sure that you are cooking the meat with rising heat, rather than both rising and surrounding. This will help to ensure that the meat is nice and moist when you pull it out. I mix all of my ingredients together to fill the crock about 3/4 of the way, then leave the top 1/4 for the meat.

Cholent making tip #2: Decreased surface area = perfectly slow-cooked meat.

A lot of people using beef cubes or stewing beef when making cholent. That's fine, except cubed beef has lots of surface area for the heat to reach. More heat = more potential to dry out, especially over such a long period of time. Stewing beef is also usually very lean, and it's a good idea to use meat with good marbling (read: fat) so it stays moist.

My solution: I use a chuck steak, boneless or bone-in work equally well. I lay the steak right on top of my cholent ingredients, and for additional moisture help I pour a bottle of cocktail sauce on top (BBQ sauce would work well too). I was home this weekend and actually used a whole chuck roast which was pretty amazing (thanks Mom!).

Here is my recipe in case anyone is interested (I have a pretty large crockpot so if you have a smaller one, you may need to decrease the proportions):

3 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
8 red bliss or baby yukon potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
2 large onions, quartered
1-1/4 cups quinoa
1 can small white beans
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp onion soup mix
2 cups beef stock
2 cups water
1 chuck steak (1 lb, give or take)
1 bottle cocktail sauce

Directions:
  1. Place first six ingredients in a crockpot and stir to mix. Add beef stock first, then water until you can just barely the liquid through your ingredients.
  2. Lay steak on top and pour cocktail sauce over meat.
  3. Cover and cook on low for 12-16 hours, or until it's lunch time!
Fun Variations:
  • I like using quinoa because it's doesn't get all gluey and congealed but still provides the thick consistency you want in cholent (and of course the whole gluten free thing). Rice works well too, and you can use barley but it soaks up so much water I'm always worried the cholent will be too dry.
  • Substitute the white beans for chickpeas and add 1 Tbsp allspice for cholent with a Middle-Eastern flair.
The cost:
sweet potatoes: 1.19
baby potatoes: 1.39
onions: .59
quinoa: 1.66
beans: .79
onion soup mix: .23
beef stock: 1.99
steak: 12.99
cocktail sauce: 1.29


Grand total: $22.12; serves 8-10

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