Saturday, January 23, 2010

Love-marriage, death-taxes, beans-pork…

Some things in life were just meant for each other, know what I’m saying? Pork and beans are two of those things. There’s just something about those two that make them one happy couple.

I first tried this recipe between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was awfully good, so I made it again…with a few minor tweaks. It was even better, so I made it again. And again. And again. (It kept mysteriously vanishing from the fridge and freezer. Go figure.)

Here’s what you need.

2 cups mixed dry beans – rinsed and picked over to make sure there’s no rocks, moth eggs or other non-bean stuff in there
2 quarts water
1 ham hock and/or 1-2 cups diced ham.
1 tsp salt (more or less to taste and depending on how salty your ham is)
1/4 tsp pepper
1-16 ounce can diced tomatoes (juice, too!)
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1-1/2 tsp chili pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice (gee, wherever will I get that?!)
Dash of cayenne if you like that sort of thing (I rather do)

(You know what else occurs to me as something that might taste good in this? A dollop of that ‘smoke’ flavoring I’ve never actually purchased but heard good things about, or perhaps some good tangy BBQ or a ‘deep’ hot sauce – like Pepper Plant, with that garlic/bell pepper grounding to it as opposed to the Just Plain Hot a lot of hot sauces [understandably] focus on. Which is part of what is awesome about this recipe, you can modify the flavoring as you please and make it as mild, tangy, spicy, whatever, as you like.)

OK, now, directions. Ready? Pay attention, these are really, really complicated…

  1. Dump everything into a crock pot.
  2. No, I didn’t forget about the part where you have to soak the beans overnight or pre-boil them or whatever. You can just dump the dry beans right on in there. You can soak them if you want, but if you maybe forgot? It’s OK.
  3. I know. I didn’t believe it either. I soaked them the first two times, then was in a fatal hurry so I didn’t and guess what? It worked out just fine. Didn’t even find we had any extra gas problems from doing so – although if you’re particularly sensitive to beans, soak away and we’ll all thank you for it, I’m sure.
  4. Give it a quick stir.
  5. Turn on low.
  6. Go away for at least eight hours.
  7. Come back, turn it up to high, and let it boil for as long as it takes for your beans to be “done” – depending on what size beans you’ve chosen, that might be ‘not needed’ or up to two hours.
  8. If you’ve used a ham hock (or something else with bones), fish out the bone, chop up the meat and return it to your soup
  9. Eat.
  10. You’re welcome.

Now, in terms of what beans to use, I’ve been mixing this up quite a bit. The only “rule” is that you’ll want to pick beans that have about the same cooking time – don’t put big, dense beans in with little mooshy ones and like that. I also didn’t like the ‘staining’ I got when I used black beans – the black kind of darkened the whole thing to a rather unappealing color. (Still tasted good, just looked kind of ‘eh.’)

I buy beans in two different forms: Enormous 25# sacks of your basic pinto / black, and then tiny bags of heirloom or “specialty” things mostly gotten at the farmer’s market or our very own Bean Festival.

It’s perfectly good with “just” pinto or kidney beans, but my favorite version of this so far used the heirloom-y things: equal parts Christmas limas, moccasins, and Stueben yellow-eyes.

None of which, by the way, cost me anything like the $4.95 a pound on that website! I don’t know whether the Bean Festival Pavilion just has extra-special pricing for us or what, but the most expensive for me was the Christmas lima, and they were $2 a pound.


I know. I should shut up now. But compared to the pintos I buy twenty-five pounds at a time for ten lousy bucks, and considering that I’ll hold out on the ‘fancy’ beans I want at the supermarket until they go on sale for a buck a pound? That’s, like, DOUBLE!! OhMyGAH!!!!!!

But, all kidding aside, if you’ve never branched out beyond the usual supermarket pinto / lima / kidney bean, you really should do yourself the favor and seek some of these out, even if they do cost a little more. There is a whole world of textures and flavors out there – not all beans are gritty, mealy things that taste like whatever they were cooked with, or nothing at all if they were cooked alone.

This has been an awfully pleasant thing to come home to, with the whole house full of the rich scent. I’m going to try to always make sure I’ve got a crock pot of this waiting on the days I pick up my free sourdough (I got in before the ‘bakers dozen’ deal expired last month, so I’m getting one free one-pound loaf a month for thirteen months. Sweet!) (And also tangy! WOOT!)

This is another thing I find to be worth the money: Boudin sourdough is the sourdough, to me. It is one of the first things that pops to mind when people ask, “What’s so great about San Francisco, anyway?”

And a source of constant frustration, because I have never, ever been able to reproduce anything even close here at home. Oh, my sourdough is perfectly OK. We have good yeast cultures out here in San Joaquin – after all, we’re very close to the Gold Country where it originated, yes? So when I take the time to futz around with starting a starter and tending it and giving the bread the extra time it needs to rise from sponge rather than factory-produced yeast, blah blah blah, it’s good.

…but it ain’t Boudin, baby, it ain’t Boudin…

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