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Chicken Cholent

I think I officially have enough blog traffic that my Jewish friends aren’t the only ones reading! This means that I actually have to explain what cholent is. (This is very exciting.)
Cholent is what Ashkenazi Jews (from Eastern Europe) used to eat every Saturday for lunch. Sephardi Jews ate something similar, but they called it “Hamin” (which means “hot stuff” in Hebrew…funny, no?) We still make this today, and to my knowledge, little has changed in terms of the basic ingredients — though every cook adds his or her special touch.
The key to cholent is cooking time. Because traditionally, no cooking is allowed on the Sabbath, people start cooking cholent by sundown Friday, and don’t touch it until they’re ready to eat it on Saturday for lunch. By Saturday afternoon, the watery, murkey pot-o-goodies is an entirely different animal: the barley has soaked up all the water and turned soft and supple; the meat (or, as here, chicken), having been braised for about 18 hours, falls off the bone unprodded. Potatoes have turned dark brown from steeping in chicken stock and whatever else is in the pot — and the marrow in the bones is creamy, flavorful and delicious. Sound appealing?
Over the years, the basics of cholent have stayed the same (meat, potatoes, barley), but the little things change from chef to chef (and, in my case, from time to time). I find that meat sits in my stomach like a brick when I eat it on Saturday afternoon, so my new thing is subsituting chicken. Sometimes I add apricots and carrots, sometimes prunes or dates. Once I even did a tagine style and included preserved lemons. As for the liquid, I frequently add chili sauce or bbq sauce, which are both pretty common — but anything will do.
The best part about cholent is that it only improves with age; leftovers are even thicker and more flavorful. I’ve included a recipe below, but that’s really not necessary, for two reasons:
a) cholent is a method, not a recipe. Just throw some protein and carbs in a pot, cover with liquid, and cook forever.
b) my actual cholent recipe is someone else’s prized posession, and it was given to me on strict condition that I never write it down, let alone pass it on. I wasn’t even allowed to transcribe it as I heard the holy words uttered; I merely had to remember it as best I could, and try to replicate the recipe according to my (very flawed, very human) memory. You may not be surprised to know that he who gave me this recipe actually called it “Torah She-B’al Peh,” or “Oral Law.”
So that’s that.
serves lots.
1 whole chicken or many strips of flank steak
several potatoes or any kind, washed and quartered
a few cups of barley
a couple marrow bones, optional
salt and pepper
any or all of the following things and more: carrots, apricots, prunes, dates, raisins, gosh I don’t know — preserved lemons, olives, tomatoes, you name it.
Dump all this in the crock pot.
Cover with water by at least a couple inches or more.
Add any or all of the following sauces, if you wish: bbq, teriyaki, sweet chili sauce, tomato sauce, soy sauce, etc.
Turn on high until boiling, then switch to low and leave it alone until ready to eat!
I should mention one note: some people stick balls of tinfoil between the actual crock pot and the heating device in which it sits, so as to avoid the burnt crust that forms at the bottom of the pot. I like burnt, so I leave well enough alone.
Happy Cholent!

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