Jan asked for this dish in the morning, as a result, I was not able to pre-soak my beans overnight. This left me with the “quick soak” method—bring a pot of water and beans to a boil and then let them rest for an hour off the heat. My variation to this method is that I make a rich ham broth and then soak the beans in this flavorful, salty liquid.
When Safeway has a half price sale on half hams after a holiday, I cannot not resist buying one. This is a lot of meat for my three person household, so I sliced it into thick ham steaks to freeze for later. I am left with a large ham bone and the grisly pieces in the end. For me this meaty bit says “Ham and Beans.”
Jan knew that this bone was living in my freezer and asked for ham and beans for dinner. I have done numerous variations on this dish, but last week I did a Guinness beef stew. Guinness adds a deep rich flavor to any dish that you pour it into—even bread—so I thought I would try it in my beans.
There are two reasons to soak your beans—to decrease cooking time and 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 and to allow your liquid to more easily penetrate the skin and hydrate the “meat” inside. The two ways of doing this are the “cold soak” and “quick soak” methods.
With the cold soak method you put the beans into heavily salted water and let it rest for 6-12 hours. In the hot soak method you bring the pot of beans, salt and water just to a boil, and then leave the pot to stand off the heat for one hour. For both methods you then drain off the water and excess salt before adding it to your final cooking liquid.
In making refried beans I discovered that with both of these methods you are discarding not only some of the bean skin’s nutrients, but most of the color as well—a critical issue with refried beans as they turn an unappealing grey without this natural dye. Because of this I have taken to hydrating my beans in my final cooking liquid and only adding the necessary amount of salt.
For my ham and beans, I like to make a rich broth with my ham bone. Hours of simmering converts the cartilage to gelatin and releases the meaty goodness of the ham bone. Ham has plenty of salt, so I add very little—if any. I then use this liquid to soak and cook my beans.
You could make this dish on the stove top, if you were careful about avoiding scorching. I prefer to bake the beans in a large, cast iron, Dutch oven at 350 degrees—no burning, no stress. This recipe made enough to serve 6 as a main dish, the beans are even better the second day.
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 traps the flavor, lower fat means less flavor. Whether you de-fat your broth or not is a personal decision between you, your diet, and your taste buds.
Karl’s Guinness Ham and Beans
1 trimmed half ham bone with extra ham
2 cans (29 oz.) Guinness beer, separate uses
1½ cups Great Northern beans
1 medium yellow onion, diced finely
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 stalks celery, diced finely
½ cup carrot, grated
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. dark brown sugar
¼ tsp. Indian chili powder
½ tsp. pepper, separate uses
1. Put the one can of the Guinness and enough water to make 10 cups of liquid into a large pot.
Tip: If you can, do this the day before you plan to cook your beans.
Note: You do not want to use your Dutch oven at this point, because you will be sautéing the vegetables in it before adding the beans and liquid.
2. Add your ham bone—and any meat and fat scraps—to the pot and bring it to a boil
Tip: Large hams have a lot of fat on them, save back a good sized lump to render for sautéing the vegetables.
Note: While you will eventually discard the fatty bits, you still want to extract as much flavor from them as you can. Some animal gave its life for this dish, do not waste anything. If you have a dog you may feed the fat to it and not even waste those bits.
3. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot.
4. After 20 minutes, remove the bone and trim off any large meaty bits from the bone and any scraps.
Tip: Dice the meat into small bite sized pieces and reserve it in the refrigerator.
Note: If you cook the meat for hours, it would become hard and chewy. By removing it at this point, you will be able to return it at the end of the cooking time as tender chunks of ham.
5. Continue simmering the ham bone for at least an hour to dissolve the cartilage to make a rich stock.
Tip: Simmer the broth for as long as you have time for—2-6 hours is best. I started this in the morning and simmered the broth for 4 hours.
6. After the broth has simmered, remove the bones and fatty bits.
Note: Scrape any remaining meat from the fat and bones and reserve it for later. Cook’s Illustrated chefs would simply discard this meat—I cannot.
7. Strain, de-fat, and measure your ham broth.
Tip: If you have the time, put the broth in the refrigerator to let the fat float to the top and congeal. It is then easy to remove as much fat as you find necessary. If you have less time you may use a fat separator to quickly remove the excess fat.
Note: If you were not able to reserve the lump of fat earlier, you may wish to save 2 Tbs. of this fat for sautéing the onions and celery.
8. Return the broth to the pot and add enough water to make 8 cups of liquid.
Note: After simmering your broth for many hours it may have condensed to only 3 to 4 cups.
9. Sort and rinse the beans and put them in a pot with the broth.
Note: If you have the time—and space—you may cold soak the beans in the refrigerator overnight.
10. Bring the pot of broth and beans just to a boil.
11. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let it stand for one hour.
12. Drain the beans—reserving the broth—and set them both aside.
13. In a large Dutch oven, render the reserved ham fat—cook until most of the liquid fat is released.
Tip: Discard the fat chunks.
Note: Alternatively, you may use the skimmed fat or vegetable oil of you are trying to reduce your saturated fat intake.
14. Sauté the onions with the salt, until just starting to pick up some color.
Tip: The salt draws the moisture out of the onions and causes them to become tender and brown more quickly,
15. Add the celery and carrots and continue cooking until limp, about another 4 minutes.
16. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pot and add the garlic sauté one minute, until fragrant.
17. Stir the garlic into the vegetables and pull them to the sides of the pot again.
18. Add the brown sugar to the hole in the center and cook the sugar—stirring constantly—for 1 to 2 minutes more.
Tip: You want the sugar to caramelize a bit, for the deep flavor it will add—see the Maillard reaction.
19. Add the Indian chili powder and half of the black pepper to the pot.
Tip: Indian chili powder is whole ground chilies—seeds and all. It has a very fruity chili flavor. A decent substitute would be to put one árbol chili in a spice grinder.
20. Deglaze the pot with the second can of Guinness.
21. Measure and add the ham broth to the pot.
Tip: If necessary, add enough water to make 10 cups of liquid—Guinness, broth, and water.
Note: How long you have to cook your beans and how much liquid you need to add to the pot depends mostly on the beans’ age. Freshly picked beans may be tender in about 1½ hours of simmering and only need six cups of liquid. Beans that have been sitting on the shelf—yours or the supermarket’s—may take as much as 4 hours and 10 cups of liquid to cook until tender.
22. Stir the drained beans into the pot.
23. Bring the Dutch oven just to a boil, put the lid on and place it in the oven at 350º F.
24. Stir the beans about every 30 minutes and bake until beans are almost tender.
25. When the beans are just tender, mash some of the beans against the edge of the pot to thicken the stock.
Tip: 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.
26. Add the reserved meat and the rest of the black pepper.
Tip: Adjust seasoning, if necessary, The ham will have added plenty of salt, but add salt to your own taste.
27. Continue to bake the ham and beans for another 15-20 minutes more.
28. Remove the pot from the oven and serve.