I am making Santa Maria barbecue this Sunday and this needs a special kind of beans. I finally found a source for heirloom Santa Maria pinquito beans. If you live in the South Bay (San Jose, CA area) it is just a short 30 minute drive down to just south of Gilroy to where the 101 briefly becomes a two lane highway. Garlic World is an overgrown roadside fruit stand that specializes in Gilroy’s primary crop—I love when the wind is out of the south in the morning, it smells of garlic. Garlic World also carries Suzie Q’s pinquito beans.
Note: Inside the package of beans was a Suzie Q spice pack. If I had read the instructions more carefully, you only need to add the spice pack, the beans and water and then to boil them for two hours. I had already gone too far on my own recipe, so I will save this spice for another pot of beans.
For most people outside of California, your best bet to get the real deal is to buy them by mail. If you are impatient you may substitute small pink beans—these are just pink kidney beans sorted for size—pink beans or pinto beans. If you use these beans the cooking times may be longer.
Note: One of the interesting differences of the pinquito, besides its small square shape, is that it stays firm, even if you overcook it. It also has a unique and pleasant flavor. It is well worth going to the trouble of having it shipped to you.
Many bean recipes start with canned beans and then add stuff. As I was reading an on-line “bean expert,” they made a statement that crystallized what I had felt was wrong with most bean recipes. This “expert” was expounding on the need to soak and boil the beans first—to make them like canned beans—and then to pour off the “waste water.” The expert explained that this was because you did not want the bean flavor to overpower the other additions.
I feel this is completely wrong headed. A pot of beans should taste like beans. Any additions that do not support or add to the “bean flavor” don’t belong in the recipe. When I was making refried beans I discovered that if you pour off the soaking and boiling water you end up with a grey, unappealing, tasteless mess. Pouring off the color and nutrients in the boiling water, so that they taste like canned beans, is just a bad idea.
There are two reasons to soak your beans. The first is to decrease cooking time and save energy. During the soak the beans rehydrate and this makes cooking the beans quicker.
The second reason is to add salt to the beans. The salt both seasons the beans and the sodium in the salt replaces the calcium in the bean hulls to give you a softer bean. Whether this is a good thing is a personal preference—Jan does not like a soft, mushy beans. She prefers beans with some “bite.”
The “green” alternative to the long cooking time for dried beans is the “quick soak” method. You put the beans in the liquid, bring it just to a boil, and then leave the pot to stand off the heat for one hour. This warm soak rehydrates the dry beans and reduces the cook time simmering the beans. Again, many cooks would heavily salt and discard this water. I use just enough salt and water to finish cooking the beans in the soak liquid.
The advantage of not discarding the soak liquid is that you can replace the heavily salted water with a cooking stock. For a dish like this, I prefer a ham stock. A bit of bacon, some aromatics and a ham hock or two simmered for four hours produces a richly flavored broth that makes for a great pot of beans. The long simmer dissolves the collagen in the ham hocks, releasing gelatin to thicken your stock. The chefs at Cook’s Illustrated speed up this process eliminating the ham hock and simply adding a teaspoon of gelatin powder at the end of the cooking time.
Note: If you want soft hulled beans, you may add just enough salt to season the stock. While the bacon and ham hock both contain salt, you may add more, as long as you do not over salt it. This is problematical. Since Jan does not like soft beans, I wait until the beans are done and add only enough salt to taste.
My usual mantra is “fresh is better.” One exception to that rule is tomatoes. If it is tomato season then, yes, fresh is better. However, if your choice is a supermarket tomato, that has been picked green and sprayed with chemicals to turn it red, or canned tomatoes, that were processed in the field at the peak of freshness, then canned is better. Today the farmer’s market had beautiful, vine-ripe, heirloom tomatoes—Yeah!
Karl’s Santa Maria-Style Beans II
3 broiler roasted tomatoes
1 strip smoked bacon
8 cloves garlic, minced, separate uses
1 medium yellow onion, diced finely, separate uses
1 Tbs. dry mustard
2 smoked ham hocks
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 lb. pinquito beans (small pink beans or pintos in a pinch)
1 cup diced ham
1. Rinse, stem and quarter the tomatoes. Lay them cut side up on a lipped baking sheet and broil them for 10 minutes, until starting to pick up some color. Set the them aside to cool.
Tip: Do not discard any liquid that has been released.
2. Dice the bacon finely and sauté it in a 6 quart Dutch oven until soft, but not crisp.
3. Add three minced cloves of garlic and sauté for 30 seconds more.
4. Add half of the dice onions and continue sautéing until the onions are translucent, about three more minutes.
5. Add the mustard, ham hocks, and 7 cups of water to the pot and bring it to a boil.
Tip: The ham hocks have a thick layer of skin around them. Use a knife to cut the skin open in several places so the cooking liquid can get to the cartilage within.
6. Skin the tomatoes and chop them up a bit and add them and any released liquids to the pot.
Tip: The broiling will have made the tomatoes very soft. Hold down one corner of the tomato skin and scrape the tomato flesh away from you. It should slide right off the skin. Discard the skins.
7. Cover the pot and turn the heat to low. Simmer for three to four hours. Add water if necessary, you want about 4 cups of broth left when you are done.
8. Cool the stock and transfer it to a lidded container. Refrigerate for at least one hour, or overnight, and clean the Dutch oven.
Tip: Reserve any bits of meat. Ham hocks have very little actual lean meat on them, but they do have a little. remove the the ham hock bits while the broth is still warm. As the broth cools it will turn into a thick jelly. Skim the most of the fat from the broth, but reserve at least one tablespoon if you can for sautéing the remaining onions.
9. Sort and rinse the beans.
Tip: You can do the previous steps on the same day you plan to cook your beans, but I prefer to make the stock the day before so I can congeal and skim any excess fat.
10. Put the reserved pork fat in the bean pot and sauté the onions until they are starting to pick up some color.
Tip: If you do not have reserve pork fat, you may use olive oil or butter.
11. Add the remaining minced garlic and continue cooking for 30 seconds, until fragrant.
12. Add the tomato paste to the pot and continue sautéing until the tomato paste has darkened.
13. Add the stock and cider vinegar to the pot and bring it to a boil.
Note: Many cooks would strain out the solids—the bits of overcooked bacon, onion and garlic—from the stock. I find this wasteful and disrespectful to the animal that gave its all for this dish.
14. Add the beans and return the pot to a boil. Cover and simmer on low for 1½ hours.
15. Stir in the diced ham and continue cooking until the beans are to your preferred tenderness, about 30 minutes.
Tip: If the bean broth seems a bit thin you can crush a few beans to thicken it. If the broth seems too thick, add a bit more pork broth, if you have it, or water.