Clearly, the favorite food of quarantine 2020 is bread. Sourdough, in specific. Dalgona coffee has had a good run too. But beans are the real food MVP of this pandemic. In a time when people are anxious about their health, worried about money, and have extra hours to spend in the kitchen, the ability of beans to be comforting, bone cheap, and incredibly tasty all at once can’t be denied.
Red, black, kidney, pinto, Roman, soy… Beans — as Peggy Olson once showed us — are form, affordability, and function combined. Everything we need right now. To be fair, they were everything we needed before the quarantine too. Most Indigenous cultures in the Americas treat beans as a staple, and the current maker-movement has been reminding people of their wonders for the past few years with long odes to the legume’s infinite iterations.
With the quarantine dragging on, Zach Johnston and I decided to share whatever bean wisdom we’ve got. Zach came through with a recipe that looks like it will take you until the end of the shutdown to complete (it’s actually pretty quick, I tried!), and I add in a few tips as someone whose overarching bean philosophy is “this needs to be one the table and in my mouth in 25 minutes or so.” Regardless of which approach you take, you probably won’t screw your dinner up. No matter how many times you accidentally let the beans get scalded to the bottom of the pan. And that enormous margin for error, in this time when life feels balanced on a razor’s edge, is yet another testament to the bean itself.
Zach’s Louisiana Style Pork and Beans
I’m using the term “Louisiana” very loosely here. What I am doing is a sort of Cajun-inspired bean dish that has the hallmarks of the Big Easy cooking ways: Bell peppers in the mirepoix, quasi-Cajun spice mix in the base, and fatty, unctuous pork with the beans.
This recipe is not vegan by any stretch. But I have made a vegan version many times. I simply replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock and skip the pork shank. It’s still delicious and versatile. This is also a fairly low-impact recipe. Once you’ve made the base for the beans to cook, it goes into a low temp oven for a slow simmer. That means you’ll need about 20 to 40 minutes (depending on searing off a pork shank) to get this started and the rest of the time is just oven time.
This recipe will also feed you for a week. I ended up having beans and rice in some form for lunch pretty much every day with this recipe. To keep it interesting, I’d change up things slightly each day, but more on that later.
Here’s your shopping list:
- Two-pound pork shank (unbrined with skin on)
- One-pound dried pinto beans
- One carrot
- One yellow onion
- One stalk of celery
- One bell pepper
- Tube of tomato paste
- Olive oil
- One tsp. cumin
- One tsp. garlic powder
- One tsp. smoked paprika
- One tsp. dried oregano
- One tsp. dried thyme
- Two fresh bay leaves
- Salt and pepper
- 4 cups chicken stock
There are only two steps to prep for this meal. The night before you cook, you’re going to want to soak your beans. I place them in a mixing bowl and cover with enough water so that the beans can double in size and still be in the water. I then cover the bowl with a dinner plate. This helps the beans hydrate which lowers the cooking time later but also allows the beans to maintain their structural integrity when you do cook them.
You can skip this step but it’ll just take way longer to cook your beans and they’ll likely start to fall apart by the time they are cooked. I sometimes use a sped-up version of soaking beans. I’ll boil a kettle of water and then pour that over the beans and let them soak two to four hours, covered with a dinner plate. I’ve experienced the same results as soaking overnight with this method.
Next, get your mirepoix ready by dicing the celery, onion, bell pepper, and carrot. You don’t need to be exact here but it should be a fairly small dice. That’s literally it on the prep.
The first thing you want to do is get a nice sear on the pork shank. I heat up a few glugs of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot on high heat. I’m using a 5l (1.3 gallons) pot that’s both stovetop and oven safe. Once the oil is shimmering, I place the pork shank in, flesh side down. I then sear off all sides. This takes a bit of time, maybe three to four minutes per side. But what you’re doing is creating a lovely fond on the bottom of the pot that’ll layer in flavor to the overall dish.
Next, I lower the heat to medium and I get my mirepoix into the pot. I salt and move around the mirepoix with a wooden spoon, bringing up all that fond into the veg.
Once the mirepoix is translucent and softened (about five to seven minutes), I add in the spices and about half a tube of tomato paste. I move that around on the bottom of the pot to release the aromatics and then mix into the mirepoix.
I then drain the beans and add them to the pot with the chicken stock. I mix everything well with the wooden spoon, add the bay leaves, and taste the soup for seasoning. I add a few cranks from a pepper mill and a pinch of salt. I then bring the pork shank back to the pot.
I cover the pot and place it in a pre-heated oven on around 275f-300f. I leave it alone for two hours until it looks like this…
I fish the pork shank out, skim the access fat, and give the beans a good stir. They should be fork-tender, still have their skins, and ready to eat. But first, we need to de-bone, skin, and chop our pork.
The meat should fall off the bone and out of the skin with little effort. I cut one-inch cubes, remove any sinew or gristle, and slice up a few cubes of the fatty skin to add back into the beans.
I cover that and let it rest for a solid 15 minutes.
While that’s resting, I make some rice. I used some Jasmine rice I had on hand. Nothing fancy — just white rice. Put about two cups of rinsed rice in a pot, add enough chicken stock to cover an inch above the rice, put a lid on, bring to a simmer, lower heat to the lowest setting, wait. Ten or so minutes later the liquid should be gone. Turn heat off, fluff rice with a fork, let rest another ten minutes with the lid on. Fluff again with a fork, serve.
The beans have a great depth of flavor with a fresh edge thanks to the mirepoix. They’re tender with an umami-bomb base. The pork shank is a nice additional layer of protein and fat but, again, you can go vegan with this and it’ll still be great. Initially, I served this with a few Cajun-fried shrimp (I used this recipe). I’ve also served it as a simple bowl of rice and beans with a little hit of hot sauce. But I’d have to say my favorite presentation of this dish was as a burrito. I simply warmed up a flour tortilla, whipped up some guacamole, and added some shredded cheddar and jack. I made sure to get a couple of nice morsels of pork meat and fat in there and voila, a great pork and bean burrito for lunch!
To be clear, this isn’t a UPROXX-sanctioned cooking battle. Mostly because I don’t really have a recipe for you. I just have a story. About beans.
Down in Costa Rica there is this product. Lizano beans, sold by the packet. They come in little ziplock pouches and sell for a few bucks at literally every market you’ll ever visit.
They are amazing. Famous for sustaining the local population and every single surfer who enters the country. Go on a surf trip in Costa Rica and you’ll probably eat these, wrapped in a tortilla with some avo and hot sauce, twice daily. Hell, three times.
But they don’t export them to the US or have them made at their factories here. And shipping rates from Amazon or sites like TicoShopping are guaranteed to double the cost. If they ever did release them for the American market, the demand would certainly be there. I’ve heard plenty of stories of surfers filling board bags with them before returning to their home countries. At my wedding, a friend who flew up from Costa Rica revealed that his entire gift was in the form of these beans — 50 packets — but they were taken at customs. Had it not been such a special day, I would have been devastated.
As far as I can tell, there are two secret ingredients that make Lizano beans — both the black and red varieties — so delightful. Those ingredients are:
Lard. And the easy-to-get-in-the-states:
So that’s secret #1. Use those two things. Trust me, imitating Lizano beans is the lane you want to be in. With those ingredients in place, here’s my down and dirty/ “I’m not going to the store today” recipe:
- Some beans. White, pinto, red, cassoulet, black, etc. I usually use pinto or black.
- Some onions. Purple or white.
- Some garlic. Fresh, pre-roasted, or powder — depending on the strength you want.
- Some meat. I used bacon and chorizo above. Deli turkey and ham also work. Polish sausage. Any meat, really, though I rarely use beef.
- Some bone-based stock. I use chicken or turkey. Beef would be great and pork would be wonderfully gluttonous.
- Some herbs. I use oregano and cilantro from my garden. This takes things pretty Tex-Mex, which I like. Chives or shallots would work for more southern-style beans.
- Some seasoning. A little taco seasoning perhaps. Or just cumin, salt, pepper, and paprika. I sometimes use seasoning salt or celery salt. You’re building the flavor profile, so pay attention to this part. You don’t need much of anything. And remember: In reduction-based recipes, the seasoning is going to be amped up as the dish reduces. Don’t “season to taste” until the very end. Besides, you’ve already layered a lot of flavor in and the Lizano pretty much does the trick on its own.
- Some alcohol — usually two glugs of hard liquor and four glugs of beer. Bourbon and rum are sweeter. Tequila and beer are more in the “borracho beans” lane. All very good options. Don’t use vodka.
- Some tomato element. Paste works and adds some tartness. Taco sauce works for more Mexican-style beans. Ketchup combines vinegar, tomato, and sweetness for more southern-style beans.
- Some sugar element (optional). Honey or maple syrup in the southern US. Or try agave nectar if you already used tequila. Go easy here.
Here’s another riff:
I guess I put the onions in last here. It’s nice to brown them beforehand, but clearly not essential. Nothing is really essential except for the beans, the lard, the onions, and the broth.
- Sometimes I used canned beans. Sometimes I soak my own. It’s hard to tell which is better when they’re in a burrito, though I do like soaked better over rice because they’re less likely to break apart.
- Put the stuff in the pot.
- Until they’re done. To your liking. If you cook until the broth is reduced away and they’re not soft enough, add more broth.
This is terrible of me but I don’t think I have a picture of my completed beans. I usually snip some cilantro over them and roll them into a burrito. They’re perfect. And though my recipe has never been recreated the same way twice, I’d be happy to challenge the beans of any other aficionado. I might not win, but I’d probably be close. Not because I’m some miracle chef, but because beans are easy to do passably well.
So make some. God knows, nothing is easy right now, let these be the thing.