Sólet, the slow cooked Jewish-Hungarian stew
Jewish communities have been living in Hungary for nearly 1000 years. The result of this long-term Jewish-Hungarian co-existence is the appearance of Jewish foods – like flódni, latkes, matzo ball soup and sólet – as standards in the Hungarian repertoire. Sólet (pronounciation: “sho-let”) is a Jewish-Hungarian dish, a traditional slow cooked stew. It’s usually prepared on Friday before Sabbath, simmered overnight in the oven, and eaten the following day for lunch. This is done to conform to Jewish laws that prohibit cooking on Sabbath day.
It’s important to get it right: there is no authentic sólet recipe. My sólet is not necessarily your sólet. Everyone has their own sólet recipe, and family recipes are passed down from generation to generation. Variations abound, but all agree that for a good sólet you need meat (both smoked and regular), beans and barley.
If there is one constant in sólet making, it’s the low and slow rule. Sólet is cooked at a low temperature between 90 and 150°C (194-302°F) for several hours. It’s generally simmered in the oven, however it can also be made in a slow cooker.
The quality of sólet depends on the meat you use. Beef is a typical ingredient, which is combined with some smoked meat. The latter can be smoked goose breast, thighs, or duck, or smoked beef tongue. Sólet is also a popular meal among non-Jewish Hungarians, who often break the kosher rules by making sólet with pork including smoked ham hocks or sausage.
Theoretically, sólet can’t be cooked in small quantity, a normal recipe serves at least 10. I had to find the middle ground between cooking a classic sólet and not eating it for weeks. My recipe was inspired by Spicy Eszter (expert of Jewish foods) and Szoky, their recipes give the base of my sólet, I just halved the quantities.
- 50 g (~1 3/4 oz) goose fat
- 1 big onion
- 3-4 garlic cloves
- 4-5 black pepper corns
- 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
- 500-600 g (~1 1/3 lbs) whole piece of beef (e.g. brisket)
- 1 smoked goose breast (approx. 250-300 g / 2/3 lb)
- 1 smaller beef marrow bone
- 250 g (~8 3/4 oz) dried beans (soaked overnight)
- 50 g (~1 3/4 oz) pearl barley
- 2 medium carrots
- 4 eggs
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp sweet ground paprika
Peel and chop onion and garlic cloves, peel the carrots and cut in halves or quarters. Thoroughly wash the eggs in vinegar water to disinfect, then rinse them. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 356°F.
In a large ovenproof dish put goose fat, stir in onions, garlic, caraway seeds, black pepper corns and 1/2 tablespoon of paprika. Place beef (salted lightly), goose meat and marrow bone in the pot, then cover with beans and barley. Add carrots and sprinkle 1/2 tablespoon of paprika over them. Salt and pepper moderately. Place the eggs on top and cover with water.
Put a lid on the pot and slide it in the oven. Reduce heat to 150°C / 302°F and let the food do its job for a couple of hours.
After 2 hours of cooking check the dish and adjust salt. After that take a look at the stew regularly in order to see how much water has evaporated and add more hot water if necessary. Cook for 5-7 hours or until beef and goose are very tender. (In my case beef reached the right consistency after 4 hours, but goose needed more than 6 hours to be done.) When the sólet is done, turn off the heat, and either you serve it after 1-2 hours of resting or you can let it sit overnight, and it will probably taste even better the next day.
Slice the meat, shell the eggs and quarter them, and place them on plates with a ladle of stew. Serve with bread and pickled beetroot.
1.) Sólet is traditionally cooked in large quantity, but I tried to prepare it in a smaller portion. The recipe above serves 4.
2.) Feel free to use any type of dried beans you can obtain. Some folks like dark beans, some like white beans, (I like pinto beans), others prefer to mix them.
3). Beef meat can be bone-in or boneless according to your preferences. If you can’t get goose breast or thighs, it can be replaced with smoked duck or smoked beef tongue. Anyway, at least one smoked piece of meat is strongly recommended because it gives sólet a savoury taste.
4.) Make sure to cook the meat (both regular and smoked) in whole and cut only when it’s out of the oven, otherwise it will be done to early and will be chewy.
5.) If smoked meat is too salty, you may soak it in cold water for a couple of hours.
6.) Beef marrow bone isn’t a must, but it makes sólet much tastier, so don’t omit it if you manage to get it.
7.) Cookig temperature may vary between 90°C and 150°C (194-302°F). The lower heat you choose, the longer the stew cooks.
8.) Sólet’s cooking time can be reduced if you cook smoked meat in a pressure cooker beforehand. In this case don’t discard its cooking liquid, but add it to the sólet.
9.) Make sure that the eggs are fresh, as one bad egg could ruin the dish.
10.) In order to avoid oversalting, add salt gradually in more steps.
11.) The finished stew has less or more liquid depending on the pot you cooked it in and on the oven. Some like it with more liquid, others prefer a thicker stew. If you want to get rid of water, increase the heat to 200°C / 392°F and cook the stew uncovered for 40-50 minutes.
12.) Sólet is a heavy meal, so you will probably need some digestive tablets that help you break it down.