I’ve spent years feeling that I ought to like beans and greens but just can’t. I blamed it on my not being southern. Jet blamed it on my not using pork properly. Reading this, I feel like we are both right. Jet’s approach to beans and greens is far superior to everything I have done before. You’ll find it below.
In this post, Jet explains the genesis of a nickname that she uses for me. I’ve been reluctant to let her post it here because I’ve been afraid that it will come off as self-aggrandizing, which is not at all my intent. But there was no simple way to cut it out of this post without chopping out a lot of what Jet wanted to say. So it stays, along with everything you ever wanted to know about how to make the best darn beans and greens on the planet. Please know that I love Jet but I don’t view myself in exactly this way.
When I met Christiana, The Harmonious Kitchen was a relatively new endeavor for her. The honesty of her dazzlingly clever prose was much of what drew me to her as a new friend in the first place. At the time, I was fond of calling her Super-C because she is just the most astonishingly capable person. Michael, who adores her, calls her Little Buddy, less a reference to her petite stature than to my growing heft when our friendship was new. My brother and best friend from work both commented immediately after meeting her that it was odd for such a serious seeming person to have such a silly nickname. Well, Kent fixed all of that in our first meeting by re-christening her Jackie-O. Nailed it. Brilliant. Reserved. Sophisticated. Style Icon.
One of the early Harmonious Kitchen posts addresses a tragically misguided, although hilariously recounted, attempt at southern cooking in which she sort of fries risotto cakes, not arancini, and while admitting fried risotto cakes are not really southern, gets to the heart of her anxieties about deep frying. We’ve been working on this for a few years now and, trust me, they are very deeply rooted. As I am irredeemably southern, I’ve taken the matter of helping her overcome her fear of frying and other aspects of the southern table as a sort of personal quest begun in Stygian darkness.
Among my many guilty pleasures is the HBO show, True Blood. It is southern gothic at its finest and the various vampires, shape shifters, werewolves, fairies, bruhos, bigots, and zealots who inhabit Bon Temps, Louisiana are the perfect abstraction of our dismal politics and popular culture. Why this digression? The aforementioned best friend at work is also a huge True Blood fan. We both love the erstwhile drug dealer, drag queen, short order cook cum bruho and medium, Lafayette Reynolds. My friend mainly takes his appearance overly seriously, but, occasionally, after a couple of drinks, will text over the top ridiculous photos of himself. One such gem has morphed into an alter-ego, “Lafayette”. A text from “Lafayette” is certain to blunt the force of even the most heinous stressors. It occurred to me in thinking about how to best address Christiana’s problem with not completely loving beans and greens and feeling a little guilty about wanting to chase them with TJs pot roast, that Lafayette may be the perfect tutor. Looking around online, Lafayette is, in fact quoted on the topic of beans. Of course he is. He is a short order cook in the south, “Arlene, these beans is colder than titties in a brass bra.” Unfortunately, while entertaining, the serving temperature of the beans didn’t appear to be the problem, so she is stuck with me.
Let me say first, that there is a very Jack Bishop friendly approach to this problem, which I will share below. There is also a very southern approach to this problem. As we happen to have the smoked knuckles and hocks from the hickory smoked ham picked up at The Old Fashioned Country Butcher a couple of days ago, we’ll start there. When you consider what is wanting in your nutritional powerhouse slash apotheosis of the sustainable table dinner of beans and greens, there are two answers: seasoning and umami. Southerners for centuries have relied on the salty, smoky, essential porkiness of smoked hocks and knuckles, as well as vinegar and honey or molasses to prepare mouthwatering platters of beans and greens that would never, under any circumstances, result in the thought of a TJs pot roast entering ones head. It is a pretty simple affair, sauté a diced onion until it is really caramelized, it is totally fine to add celery and carrot or fennel and carrot or celery and bell pepper, but you don’t need to, add some garlic if you like, add your beans (any shitty mass produced bean from a national chain grocery will do here, but it will be better with heirloom beans), then your smoked nugget of porky goodness, black or red pepper, then your stock (yes, water is fine, so is boxed stock, homemade is better, homemade “Italian Style Pork Broth” or the broth left over from Peruvian Home Cured Ham or Momofuku Ramen are best), if you want, stick a bay leaf in there, bring to boil, reduce to simmer. It can take anywhere from an hour to three for tender beans depending on how old they were and what kind you used. You’ll want to season with salt and red wine vinegar, to your taste. If it could benefit from a sweet accent, add honey or molasses, sparingly. Add these seasonings and your greens at the end of the cooking time. Earlier salting will eliminate the promise of tender beans. Spinach takes minutes, collards take forever, mustard, dandelion, kale or chard will take about 10-20 minutes. They will be absolutely delicious. Hot sauce is a must at the table. Hot peppers pickled in vinegar are a plus.
So, what Christiana really wants is a satisfying plate of beans and greens that scratches her Jack Bishop idolatry itch. There are simple answers here too. Sauté a variety of the best mushrooms you can find or afford in canola oil, salt, red pepper flakes, and fresh thyme leaves until they have released their liquid and it is mainly evaporated. These will keep for a week in the fridge, covered in oil, and can save all manner of CSA Hair-Shirt dinners. If you are using them right away, swirl in a knob of butter to finish them. You’ll want to caramelize another diced onion and perhaps other aromatic vegetables to start. The beans really, really matter. Rancho Gordo is an awesome source for heirloom beans and their website and packaging tell you which ones produce the best pot liquor. I’m partial to Good Mother Stallard and Scarlet Runner Beans and you should save anything described as having the finished interior consistency of mashed potatoes for another use. Here, you are looking for beans with “creamy” interiors. Even Thomas Keller has a recipe for pork and barlotti beans. Locally, the Farmer and the Cook often has heirlooms from Del Pueblo Farm and Tom Shepherd in Carpinteria grows incredible beans. A word of caution about Calypso beans. They are beautiful and delicious, but they will turn grey when cooked and there is no amount of umami, not even a carton of MSG, to save a dinner of grey beans and weeds. In any case, the process is the same from here as with the southern solution, just leave out the nugget of porky goodness in the beginning, use any vinegar you like and add your warmed through mushroom sauté and some of the oil as a garnish at the end. Also, use Lacinato Kale. The beans and the mushrooms deserve it. If you have some sweet peppers and thought to roast them or fry them, or you have a jar of piquillo peppers in the fridge, they will, seasoned with a little salt and vinegar, be welcome here.
If you are curious as to my thinking around what went wrong for Jackie-O in the TJs pot roast confession post, there are a couple of answers. Smokey, salty, pig is an obvious, easy fix. As is vinegar in the place of the lemon. Now she has a bunch of awesome pork stock which would also help. If you really want satisfying, Bishop friendly beans, they can’t be from a can, or be mass produced, you need a better tasting green than the muddy chard, even if you are drowning in it from the CSA, and you need to season with vinegar and sautéed mushrooms. That said, Pollan would go for the southern fix, which easily meets the “eat food. mostly plants.” dictum and uses the meat as a condiment, rather than an aliment. Super satisfying beans and greens are a weekend affair, not a quick week night dinner. If you take the time to make them on the weekend, they freeze and reheat well and you can have killer beans and greens any old time.