When Safeway had a half price sale on hams after Thanksgiving I could not resist buying one. This is a lot of meat for my three person household, so I sliced it into three ¾” thick ham steaks to freeze and I was left with a large ham bone and the grisly pieces at the end. For me this meaty bit says “Ham and Beans.
When I searched the internet for recipes, I found that some ranged from simply ham + beans + water to others that added 10 or more vegetables, spices and condiments. I wanted there to be some vegetables in my beans, but I did not want it to turn into an onion or vegetable soup with beans. I also did not want it to be overly sweet (one recipe called for ¾ cup of brown sugar plus molasses) or over cooked (some recipes called for cooking times of 10 to 15 hours).
I really do not think that carrots go in this dish, perhaps because Campbell’s adds large chunks of carrot to their soup and I tend to pick most of them out. I think are just too over powering, overcooked and mask the beans’ flavor. I settled on a small amount of onion, celery and garlic as my vegetables.
Whether you brine your bean soak, or not, is a personal choice. Starting to cook with just the dry beans leaves you with very tough skins and a longer cooking time. Salting the beans’ soaking water allows the sodium in the salt to replace the calcium in the bean’s skin, making for a softer hull. Some people (like Jan) prefer the texture of the tougher chew of unsalted/unsoaked beans. People with high blood pressure should also avoid pre-salted beans. As far as the finished dish, most of the brining salt is poured off when you rinse the beans, but if you choose to not brine your bean soak you may need to add at least a little salt at step 15.
Note about fat: There are several issues about fat to be considered. First there are the dietary issues. Jan has had her gallbladder removed, so if there is too much fat in a dish it makes her feel ill. There are also a lot of calories in fat, for those of us trying to keep the weight off. On the other side of the equation, many flavor elements are fat soluble. The fats trap the flavor, lower fat means less flavor. Whether you de-fat your broth or not (step 6) is a personal decision between you, your diet, and your taste buds.
You could make this dish on the stove top, if you were careful about avoiding scorching, but I prefer to bake the beans in a large, cast iron, Dutch oven at 325 degrees. This recipe made enough to serve 6 as a main dish with plenty of leftovers, the beans are even better the second day.
Karl’s Ham and Beans
2 lbs. Great Northern beans
2 Tbs. kosher salt
1 Large trimmed ham bone with extra ham
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
8 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. pepper or to taste
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1. Sort and soak 2 lbs of good Great Northern Beans overnight in 8-10 cups water plus 2 Tbs. salt.
2. Cut large chunks of ham from the bone, but leave some meat scraps attached. If there are large lumps of fat, cut a few good piece off and reserve. Bring the ham, bone and 10 cups of water to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Remove the ham from the stock. Chop the meat into bite sized pieces, removing and discarding most of the fat. Reserve the ham until latter.
4. Continue simmering the ham bone for at least an hour to dissolve the cartilage to make a rich stock.
5. Let the ham bone cool and remove any meat still attached, add this to the reserve meat.
6. Strain and de-fat the broth by letting the stock rest and then skimming the fat that floats to the top into a gravy separator. If you are unfamiliar with these, it is like a measuring cup with a spout that comes out near the bottom. Pour the broth back into the pot, leaving the fat behind in the skimmer. If you were not able to reserve ham fat earlier, you may wish to save 2 Tbs. of this fat for sautéing the onions and celery. (Note: In making this current dish I had the leanest ham I had ever seen. I did not need to de-fat the stock and in fact I was hard pressed to scrape together enough lumps of fat to render for my vegetables.)
7. In a Dutch oven, render the reserved ham fat (cook until most of the liquid fat is released). Discard the fat chunks.
8. Sauté the onions and celery until limp (about 4 minutes). Add the garlic and brown sugar and sauté 1 to 2 minutes more.
9. Add the cayenne and pepper to the pot.
10. Add the ham broth and enough water to make 10 cups of liquid.
11. Drain and rinse the beans well and then add them to the pot.
12. Bring the Dutch oven just to a boil, put the lid on and place it in the oven at 325 degrees.
13. Stir the beans about every 20 minutes and bake until beans are almost tender about 1 ½ hours.
14. Remove the ham bone and mash some of the beans against the edge of the pot to thicken the stock. If mashing beans is too slow for you, you may put a cup of beans in a blender and pulse it a couple of times.
15. Add the reserved meat, adjust seasoning, if necessary, and bake 15-20 minutes more.
16. Provide fresh parsley at the table as a garnish.