We've established that offal—that's a nice word for the parts of an animal that aren't meat—was a big part of my immigrant experience, as in knowing about it, eating it, and liking it. I suspect the weirdness of offal holds a place in the memories of a lot of us immigrants. Well, let me pitch you some more offal stuff. This time, the stuff inside beef bones, which is some of the richest, most succulent and beefy stuff around. You probably have the phrase "suck the marrow from the bones" stuck somewhere in your brain (for which you can likely thank your high-school Thoreau), meaning to enjoy something down to the last drop. Well, this is why.
How to get, and eat, marrow bones?
Marrow, the stuff hanging out inside bones, is one of the key elements that make a good meat broth, beef or chicken, so flavorful. Plus, the bones themselves are where we get gelatin, the thing that makes marshmallows possible (and kosher-sensitive), and which will obligingly flood your cholent with goodness. It's always a good idea to sear a single marrow bone along with your stewing meat when making a cholent (or any stew) to boost up the flavor.
My butcher sells beef marrow bones in a pack of 4-5, so one package can make a lot of cholents tasty and nutritious. Marrow bones are fairly easy to find at a kosher butcher, since a decent number of folks in the kosher-keeping community are in the market for cholent best practices. I'm not quite sure if you can ask for them at a regular supermarket meat counter or if they're a specialty item.
In case you're wondering what exactly to do with the bony thing in your stew, some people really do suck out the marrow, and some people's dads did that with any old ordinary chicken drumstick. But I think it's best schmeared on a piece of challah. Yes, like butter. I'd say Jewish butter, but I'm pretty sure the spot is taken by schmaltz.
If you're still not digging this: don't worry about the bones, just take them out, discard, and enjoy the extra oomph they've added to your cholent.
About this cholent
While I endorse chucking a marrow bone into any cholent, this particular cholent showcases the marrow. (There's also regular cubed stew meat in there for the offaly suspicious.) Then, the cholent gets some fresh perspective by switching out the barley with farro, wheat berries from a heritage variety of wheat that have a bit more chew to them than barley. Yellow potatoes get swapped out in favor of sweet potatoes. It's a old/new world, Ashkenazi/Sephardi fusion cholent, I suppose.
Because sweet potatoes break down easily and become more of a sauce when slow cooked, to make them work in cholent, I recommend peeling them and leave them whole, even the big ones. Plan on one smaller or half a large sweet potato per adult.
How to make the cholent
This cholent pretty much goes by the cholent playbook. A few hours before Shabbat, start it off by browning the onion and searing the meat. In some slow cookers, most multi cookers (like an Instant Pot), or in an oven-proof Dutch oven, you can accomplish this in the same pot you cook the stew in. Once everything's nice and browned, season it, pour in the (dry) farro and beans, then place the potatoes on top. Then, cover everything with the tomatoes, stock, and water. Let it come to a boil.
At this point, cholent is a choose-your-own adventure type of recipe. If using a slow cooker or multi cooker, you'd put the unit in slow cook / low heat mode and set it to twelve hours, or the max it will allow you before switching to "keep warm." If making in a Dutch oven, cover and cook at 350F / 175C for about two hours or just before Shabbat). Right before Shabbat, stir in some more water. You can then leave it on a plata (Shabbat hot plate) until you're ready for your Shabbat day meal.
Marrow-Bone Farro Cholent with Sweet Potatoes (meat)
- Slow cooker, or Dutch oven and hot plate
- 1 lb beef marrow bones - 500g, 4-5 pieces
- 1 lb beef stew meat - 500g
- 1 cup farro - 200g
- ¾ cup navy or other white beans - 150g
- 4-5 small sweet potatoes, peeled and left whole - or 2-3 large ones
- 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 Tbsp sweet paprika
- ½ tsp dry ground yellow mustard
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper
- ¼ cup wine, whichever you like (I used a sweet white) - 60ml
- 2 Tbs honey - 30ml
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste - 30ml
- 1 14oz can stewed tomatoes - 400ml
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 cups water
Brown the onions and meat:
- Add the olive oil to the slow cooker insert (or Dutch oven). Set it to sauté (or over medium heat). When the oil is hot, add the chopped onion. Cook for 5 minutes or so, until lightly browned.
- Push the onions towards the side of the pan and add the marrow bones, with one of the cut sides down, onto the hot surface. Cook for 3-4 minutes, then flip and cook on the other cut side.
- Push the bones over to the sides of the pot and add the cubed stew meat to the center. Brown on both sides, 3-4 minutes per side. Add in the minced garlic at the end and cook until just sizzling, less than a minute.
Season and add the remaining ingredients:
- Season the onions and meat with dry mustard, thyme, the bay leaf, and salt and black pepper to taste.
- Add the wine and deglaze the bottom of the pot, using a rubber spatula to loosen any browned bits.
- Add the honey and tomato paste and stir.
- Add the farro and white beans.
- On top of those, add the stewed tomatoes and stir.
- Place the sweet potatoes on top and pour the broth over. Bring to a boil.
- Place your slow cooker or multi cooker in slow cook mode, on low heat (if you have that option) for 12 hours. Alternately, you can cover your Dutch oven and cook the cholent at 350°F / 175°C for about 2 hours, then place on food warmer.
- Before Shabbat, stir in the water. Cover and leave to slow cook overnight.