A Cook’s Weekend
I am a football fan. On Saturdays from now until January there are college games all over the TV, up to 12 on a given Saturday. There are few college games I feel I need to watch, but it’s nice to be able click around and get a sense of what’s going on. My metabolism won’t let me sit in front of the TV from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m., so I can have games on in the kitchen and cook. In the past, with “rabbit ears” TV, we got FOX and ABC fine, CBS was wavy and the sound came and went, and we didn’t get NBC at all, and of course none of the cable channels. Now, with Cable in the kitchen, I can get anything anytime. Hooray!
On this Saturday I made a pound of Rancho Gordo Ojo de Cabra (Goat’s Eye) beans for dinner to serve with Black Cod and a Greek Salad. That was done to the tune of my Buckeyes whupping up on Penn State. I put the beans in to soak about 10.
To soak or not to soak? Or, to consider the larger question, How in the Hell does one cook beans? There seem to be as many methods as there are bean types, and I’ve settled on one or another as my favorite, over the years. Basically, simmer the beans in water until they’re done. But what method? Soak or not? How long does it take? I’ll start with my current new favorite method.
This comes from Rancho Gordo; these are heirloom bean people and should know what they’re doing with beans, don’t you think? I do, and after trying many other methods, I’ve settled on theirs as the most straightforward, simple and satisfying.
Here’s what Rancho Gordo’s Steve Sando has to say:
There are so many new Rancho Gordo customers now; I thought I’d reprint my basic bean cooking instructions for the new folks and as a refresher for us old timers (referred to behind our backs as “bean freaks”)
There is not one single method of cooking beans. The most basic method is to simmer the pot until the beans are soft. Soaking can speed up the process, COMMA and vegetables or stock will make them more flavorful. It’s really that simple.
Rancho Gordo Method:
Check beans for small debris and rinse in cool, fresh water. Cover beans with two inches of water and soak for 4-6 hours.
In a large pot, sauté finely chopped onion, celery, carrot and garlic (or any combination you prefer) in olive oil until soft. Add beans and [soaking] water, and make sure beans are covered by at least one inch of water. Bring to a hard boil for five minutes and then reduce to a low, gentle simmer. [He doesn’t say covered, and I didn’t cover.] Once soft, add salt. Beans can take from an hour and a half to three hours to cook.
More about Beans:
Do not add acids (tomatoes, vinegar) or sugars until the beans are just tender, as they can toughen the beans. You can replace some of the cooking water with beer or stock. Bay leaves are nice, as well as ham bones or smoked turkey legs. But in general, fresh, heirloom beans need little help.
If you find the beans are going dry and you need more water, only add warm water from a kettle. Cold water can harden the beans, and hot tap water is not good for you or your taste buds.
Some people believe that changing the soaking water will help alleviate the “gas” problem for which beans are famous. Some people believe you throw out some vitamins and goodness when you do this. Epazote, a culinary herb, is said to help. This makes more gastronomic sense than throwing out the soaking water. My research reaches no definitive conclusions. From my experience, the best way to help with the gas is to eat more beans.
Some of my previous favorite methods:
The Rose Pistola cookbook has a method, wherein you start the beans on top of the stove and then slip them in the oven to finish. But that involves heating up the oven, and you can’t see or smell the cooking beans. After a couple of successful efforts, I abandoned that method.
It is in the nature of Cook’s Illustrated to question a cooking method and through extensive testing and writing about it, devise a “right” method. In the case of beans, 1] They don’t soak, 2] They add a little salt before cooking, and 3] They take the pot off heat just before the beans are done, and cover and rest for 30 minutes. That’s not so revolutionary, and I’d rather judge when the beans are done, than when they’re “not quite done.” And what do you do when the beans are done? Turn off the heat. Duh!
There’s also a pressure cooker method of cooking beans, but to me, that’s like cooking a stew in the microwave, no sight, no smells, no pleasure of stirring and tasting. No thank you.
So, I soaked the beans until two hours before dinner, put a peeled, halved onion in a pot, added beans and [soaking] water, with additional water to cover by more than an inch. Brought to a boil for five minutes and then reduced to a low, gentle simmer like Rancho Gordo says. I started tasting at 50 minutes and declared them done at 65 minutes, added two teaspoons of salt and turned off the heat. When we were ready to serve, I warmed the beans, put in a couple handsful of arugula, stirred it in and checked for seasoning. That was good. The Ojo de Cabra (Goat’s Eye) beans in their dry state are a beautiful stripey mottling of brown and buff (West High School Colors), a little larger than navy beans. While cooking, they absorb a lot of water, darken and swell to about double in size. They turn dark reddish brown and with a lusty, nutty taste, the pot liquor takes on a thin, but rich saucyness.
Carol breaded the Black Cod with Panko and pan-fried. That went on a plate on top of the beans.
The Greek Salad.
This is tomato season. I peeled and sliced three Brandywine tomatoes (no Cherokee Purples today) and arranged them on a platter, salted with coarse sea salt from Brittany, and drizzled with the good olive oil, Stonehouse Arbequina. Sliced Japanese cucumbers were scattered around along with oil cured Provencal olives, and Feta cheese, and I drizzled some more of the good olive oil over all.
For Dessert, Carol sautéed sliced apples in butter as a topping for a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Icy Lemoncello was alongside to go with.
That was a good meal.
Sunday is NFL football day, only 5 games on the tube, but they are of more interest to me. Still, Sunday is a good cooking day.
Half the beans were left and I needed to make a soup. These Ojo de Cabra (Goat’s Eye) beans are closer to black beans than white on the black/white scale, in terms of both color and flavor. I’m well schooled in white bean soup, but I needed some guidance for black beans, so I went to Soup: A Way of Life by Barbara Kafka. She had two black bean recipes and one looked interesting, Doug Rodriguez’s Black Bean Soup. I decided to modify that to fit my beans.
At the same time, we were down to one 3 Cup container of chicken stock in the freezer. What was also not in the freezer was chicken carcasses and bones. I guess we’ve been eating fish and red meat lately. Carol said Safeway had Foster Farm whole chickens on sale for 69 ¢ a pound. I went and got two.
Chicken stock takes a long time to make, but only some of that is active time, there’s lots of slow simmering. During that simmering I could make the bean soup and still keep my eye on the football games.
When I make chicken stock with a whole chicken, I take the chicken out when the meat is cooked, pick off the meat and put the skin and bones back in the pot to simmer for another hour or so. With two chickens, that will produce too much chicken meat for us two folks to eat before it goes south. Besides, the poached white meat isn’t nearly as good as the poached dark meat. That being the case, I cut the four breasts off to package and freeze for another time.
I proceed to make the stock. By the way, stock is what you get when you boil bones and scraps in water to extract their flavor. Broth is the liquid part of a soup. When I’m making it I call it stock, when I use it, it becomes broth. For stock making details, see my “Chicken Soup” entry of June ’06.
When I got the stock to a nice simmer, I focused on the bean recipe. 1] Cook the beans, did that Saturday. 2] Make a flavoring of onion, shallot, bell pepper, herbs and spices. 3] Puree and blend it into the beans, add stock or water to make it soupy. How hard is that? Not very, and a good thing, because I was hungry and that was lunch.
After lunch, the stock was done enough and I turned off the fire. The pot then sat for a couple hours to cool and get all the flavor from them bones into the stock. This gave me time to watch my 49ers lose to the Big Boy Eagles. I saw the best part, because the 9ers “won” the second half 21-14.
I strained the broth into another, smaller, pot and cooked it down for 30 minutes, then let it cool and put it in the refrigerator overnight. This allows the fat to solidify on top of the broth.
Monday morning, I took off the fat, brought the stock to a boil and cooked it down again for 10 minutes. When cool, I harvested five 3-cup containers, almost 4 quarts. So, the chickens cost $12, and yielded the broth, 2 cups of dark meat, which will become chicken salad or chicken soup, and two meals worth of chicken breasts. Not bad.
Ojo de Cabra Bean Soup
Adapted to suit my ingredients from Doug Rodriguez’s Black Bean Soup appearing in Soup: A Way of Life by Barbara Kafka, Artisan 1998
about 3 cups of cooked Ojo de Cabra beans with their pot liquor
1/2 cup xv olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into a small dice
1 medium shallot, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
In a medium soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Stir in the peppers, shallots, and onions. Cook, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Stir in the garlic, cumin, and oregano and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Puree in a blender.
Return puree to the pot and add the beans. Add about 2 cups water or broth to obtain a soupy texture and heat. Add the sugar and salt and simmer for a few minutes until the flavors are blended, and adjust the seasonings.
Serve with thinly sliced red onion and sour cream.