Monday, January 13, 2014

Intentionality and my bean pot

Admission:  I'm an extemporaneous cook.  As in, "I'll just whomp it in the pot and see what happens"--generally speaking the results are pretty delicious, and after the fact I might write down a few notes.  But more often I don't, and I just hope for the best next time.

And then someone asks me for an actual recipe and I stutter a little.
(In the age of Google I might pull up a recipe and say, "Well, this was pretty close.")

But I promised my mother I would write down this one for her, so here we go.

I'm home today and working on the recipe for one of my spouse's favorite things--charro beans (frijoles charros-cowboy beans) -- a soupy, mildly spicy concoction of beans flavored with onions and peppers and usually some sort of smoked pork product.  It's the sort of thing cowboys on either side of the Rio Grande might enjoy on the cold nights of a long drive, and for the rest of us, well, you often get a little cup of it along your entree at Tex-Mex restaurants.

My last couple of batches have featured tasso ham--South Louisiana recipe, using pork shoulder.  Via my Wisconsin mother, who recently took a charcuterie class in North Carolina.
Tasso is not the most traditional of choices, but it works. (Obviously, it's not Meatless Monday here.)

I'm still working on the spices--my pantry is something of an embarrasment of riches, and I can sometimes be a little exuberant. We'll just say that tonight's batch may need a few starches, a green salad, AND a cold beverage to cut the heat.

1 lb. pinto beans, rinsed and sorted (make sure to get the rocks and dirt out!)
2 T. neutral oil (I used grapeseed)
1 large onion, diced
peppers of choice (I used a poblano and two small serranos--reduce for a milder dish)
3-5 cloves garlic
1/3 c. tasso ham, diced (many recipes will use bacon here, or a ham hock.)
Spice blend (still under development, but here's today's rendition)- blended together in an old coffee grinder
1 dried guajillo chili (fairly mild, fruity)
1 T. Arizona Dreaming spice blend
1 t. smoked paprika, to maximize smokiness
1 t. crushed red pepper flake

1. Put the beans in a pot with at least enough water to cover by two inches.  Cover the pot and bring contents to a boil.  Turn off the heat and let the pot sit undisturbed for an hour.  This gives the beans a chance to start softening. And you can go read a book!

2. After 45 minutes have passed, go ahead and start cutting up your veggies and the ham or bacon.

3. Start the onions simmering in the oil with a little salt.  When the onions start to get translucent, toss in the peppers and then the ham/bacon.  Once that's going well, add the garlic as well.  Then add the spice blend and stir in thoroughly.  The kitchen will begin to smell quite amazing.

4.  Drain and rinse the beans, then add them to that magic you've got going on, with enough water to cover plus a couple of inches.  Bring the whole mess up to a simmer, then turn the burner to low. Cover up the pot and just let it cook.  Come stir a couple of times an hour if it makes you feel better.

5. After a couple of hours, test a bean to see how they are cooking--if it is firm, you've got some time to go!

6.  When the beans seem soft, it's time to adjust seasoning.  Most of the time, this means you'll at least need to add salt.  (With the smoked pork, you don't want to add salt until you've had some real cook time, as the meat takes time to lend its full saltiness.)  You can also add additional spices, and I often add cilantro at this point. But not for my mother, because she was not gifted with the Mmmm, cilantro trait.

7. You can also mash some of the beans to give a creamier texture to the dish.

Tonight we'll be having this with quesadillas and a salad.
If it's TOO spicy, I might make some cornbread to crumble into it. 

(And to balance the mentioning of cowboys and Tex-Mex, here's a Life in Houston postscript:  While the beans simmer for supper, my lunch is leftovers from dinner out last night.  The broth left over from an awesome bowl of pho tai--Vietnamese noodle soup with rare beef.)

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