Q: What meat (and bones) would you suggest rather than flanken for cholent and meat soups? Helene Wallenstein
A: Thanks for the great question No bones about it, when you want to add flavor to soups and stews, bones and cheap cuts of meat are essential. They are an easy and affordable way to bring bold flavor to a dish. I have to admit, I am not a cholent girl. I didn’t grow up with it, yet in writing my first book, Recipes Remembered, I certainly received my fair share of cholent recipes and heard great stories about huge pots of cholent slow roasting the night away to reveal a warm and welcoming dish the next day. One of my Sephardic contributors to Recipes Remembered talked endlessly about a bean dish she would prepare in the outskirts of Athens that featured only bones and beans. She would suck on the marrow bones to extract their rich, soft centers and used giant lima beans to hold the dish together. Noting that meat was customary for Shabbat, their poor village couldn’t afford that luxury so they cooked only the bones with the beans and the result was a decadently delicious stew. While Ptcha is not a stew, it is a dish derived from the bones of calves feet and knuckles and for some it is a delicacy beyond compare.
Much of the appeal of cholent and hearty soups is that you can toss into the pot, along with beans, barley, veggies and sometimes eggs, inexpensive cuts of meat that melt into the mix and produce a flavorful dish. Today, variations of cholent from many cultures dot menus of some of the most trendy and exotic restaurants. The French cassoulet is nothing more than a cholent made with duck confit and sausage. The traditional Baeckeoffe, an Alsatian specialty which means "baker's oven”, is essentially cholent studded with cuts of meat that peasants would place in the oven on Sunday and enjoy Monday after a hard day’s work.
So I propose that there is almost no cut of meat that will not work in this cherished and sometimes sacred dish or most soups. Try adding chunks of lamb shoulder that remain on the bone or portions of chuck roast that have great fat content. That’s crucial when choosing meat to slow cook as it will not dry out after the many hours required to produce this dish or a bold soup. I find shin bones are filled with flavor and bones cut from veal in the osso buco style would work great. Osso buco literally translates to mean “hole in the bone”, and that savory goodness from the center of the bone oozes into the dish and adds immeasurable goodness. Many who are shunning meat add poultry to cholent, and while it shouldn’t cook as long, there’s nothing wrong with tossing in chicken thighs, necks, gizzards and backs or turkey cut osso buco style or drumsticks and wings to make a flavorful stew.
The choices are endless and affordable. With summer coming, the days of slow roasting in the kitchen are probably coming to a close, but don’t forget to add those flavorful bones and cuts of meat to soups that you serve cold such as Ukrainian borscht with chunks of chuck floating in the ruby red broth.
Enjoy the column, keep your questions coming in, and together we will get to the meat of the matter.