Thursday, February 20, 2020 -
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My cholent

THIS is a really heavy column — about cholent.

Would somebody please translate cholent? “Sabbath stew” is about as colorful as translating “runs-batted-in” (RBIs) as “ultimate productive baseball capacity.” Ugh.

Many RBIs is a beautiful, concise shorthand for “Wow!”

That is: what a player.

Cholent, done right, is . . . wow! (not, ugh, sabbatical stew).

So, back in history, I started making the cholent in our house. The only bad news is that the only (very few) times it came out bad is when we had a really important guest. Natch.

My wife, I bet, can still make an over-the-top cholent, because she did it for years. She can cook anything on that induplicable, stratospheric, Hungarian level she genetically inherited. Anyway, she lets me do the cholent now, and, as I say, this is very heavy.

As in serious.

As in scrutinized.



You ever hear of fathers doting over their daughters?

I dote over my cholent.

That’s part of the method.

The trick.

Don’t just put it up, turn on the gas, and show up 16 hours later to serve it. No way.

You see, the way I like my cholent to come out is just short of burned; that is, thick gravy, with a distinct sauteed texture; but without having sauteed anything. Absolutely no oil added. Mine is a healthy cholent (as if there could be such a thing). The only liquid I add is water, and I want it to burn down to nothing — but not less. To achieve this, I dote over the cholent all night long.

First, there’s the pre-Shabbos candelighting check.

Then, the 9 o’clock check.

The midnight check.

The 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. check.

The 8 a.m. check.

The 8:45 a.m. check.

The right-after-you-come-home-from-shul check, which is usually at least 30 minutes before it will actually be served.

I’m checking for the consistency, that is, the amount of water still left. If it’s burning too fast, I move the pot slightly off the gas (how far off depends on how fast it’s burning down).* If it’s burning too slowly, I leave it on the gas.

I’m doting over the cholent.

By the time it is ready to be served, the pot may be on or off the gas, depending on how things went during the night.

Anyway, there’s a few things I do to increase the health quotient of my cholent. First, as I say, no oil (neither the “healthy” oil nor the “unhealthy” oil).

Then, no salt. None. Third, I trim off every piece of fat from the meat that I can. The meat itself has enough fat as it is.

I’m told that with all these precautions, the cholent should come out terrible, tasteless, and full of water. My cholent doesn’t. Just the opposite.

Why is this?

My daughter-in-law says she can’t figure it out; she can’t duplicate it (though her cholent is great, too). Here’s my analysis:

First of all, I am at a certain altitude. I don’t know whether my cholent would come out the same if I made it, for example, in one of our children’s homes in New Jersey, at sea level.

Second of all, I’m used to the quirks of our stove. It may appear that a flame is a flame, but I don’t think so. One flame on one stove may appear to be just like a flame on another stove — same size, same height, same circumference — but I don’t think so. I know just how much heat one of the flames on our stovetop actually produces, over how many hours. (This is important as one moves from “long” Shabboses in the winter to “short” ones in the summer.)

Third of all, I am using the same pot for as long as I can remember. It is heavy and thick. Its walls are laden with the flavors of all the previous cholents.

I suspect that if I changed to a lighter, thinner pot, my cholent wouldn’t work.

HAVE you noticed that I have written this far and still not disclosed my recipe? All I’ve told you is water and meat. Not much to go on.

Obviously, I’m not going to disclose my two secret ingredients. No way. But here is the rest:

10 small cups of water. This never varies, no matter how much, or how little, of the following ingredients are added.

Onions. A ton of onions. Four big ones, cut up just this way: one whole, one cut in half, two cut into small pieces.

Potato(es). The point is to cover the bottom of the pot first with onions, then with potato slices, so that, if the cholent burns, the onions will burn or, at worst, the onions and the potatoes, but not the meat. Also — very important — the continuous flame, reaching closest to the onions, creates that thick gravy.

Meat. Of late, I’ve really liked the flanken meat that’s available at the East Side Kosher Deli. It’s really easy to cut the fat off.

Garlic. One whole bulb, each clove peeled.

Options: Tomatoes, mushrooms or sweet potato. Our son likes the mushrooms. I add them when he’s home.

A key: Put the cholent up at full flame before Shabbos for 20 to 30 minutes. Make sure it puts the solid ingredients through a good, initial cooking, but doesn’t burn down the water.

If your house is like ours on erev Shabbos, it’s easy to forget to check the cholent to make sure the water doesn’t burn down. If that happens, then you need to add water. Ugh. You never know exactly how much to add. Bad sign. Bad, bad sign. So I try my best in the last pre-Shabbos madness to remember to check the cholent 15 to 20 minutes after I’ve put it up, and before I turn down the flame just before candlelighting time.

Incidentally, even when the cholent turns out bad (a rarity, natch), it still shoots a great aroma through the house.

While I won’t share the secret ingredients, I will reveal this: I usually try to steal a pre-Shabbos lunch portion at the midnight or the 3 a.m. check. Ah . . . heavenly.

Meaning: Make more than you need for the family and the guests.


Steal an extra portion for yourself.

P.S. One of the secret ingredients is garlic power, plus . . . (oops, ran out of room).

Copyright © 2010 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

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