Every year on my birthday, I buy myself a gift, often kitchen-centric. This year, after resisting for quite some time, I bought an Instant Pot Ultra. Monica was a bit dismissive at first, thinking it’s just another toy, and said as much. After we’d used it a few times – enough to experience what it’s really capable of – she said, and I quote, ‘Why did it take you so long to buy one of these?’
Do you need an Instant Pot? In a word – Yes.If you cook and you honestly don’t know what an Instant Pot is, then I’d kinda have to believe that you’re living in a cave and singing your fingers over an open fire. Instant Pot is a brand name for a Canadian designed version of an electric, programmable pressure cooker. That said, comparing this to your gramma’s old 500 pound aluminum behemoth is like equating an AMC Pacer to a BMW. Yes, these things claim to do a bunch of things well, and with most consumer goods of that ilk, it really isn’t the case – But with the IP, I’m here to tell you it’s all true.
Instant Pot was formed in 2009 by a bunch of Canadian tech nerds who cooked – That synthesis lead them to brainstorm a cooking device that would genuinely do things well, but faster than many common alternative methods. They state their ultimate aim as, ‘to enable busy families and professionals to prepare quality food in less time, promoting better eating and reducing the consumption of fast food.’ I’llgo so far as to say they’ve achieved that, in spades.
There are several iterations, of course. The Ultra model we have claims a raft of functions, with settings for Soup/Broth, Meat/Stew, Bean/Chili, Cake, Egg, Slow Cook, Sauté/Searing, Rice, Multigrain, Porridge, Steam, Sterilize, Yogurt, Warm, and Pressure Cooker – It’ll even do a pretty damn good job of sous vide. Then there’s what IP refers to as the ‘Ultra’ program, which in essence just gives you a very wide margin of adjustability for most parameters of the various functions mentioned above. In other words, instead of being stuck with the maker’s idea of perfect for cooking beans, you can go in and tweak the settings to your needs, and for the record, this is, for my mind, actually important. Say you cook a lot of beans – You’ll quickly learn that they do not all do well with one cooking time – so being able to adjust that makes the machine very good instead of just OK at that task. For those that really don’t care for the extra bells and whistles, there are simpler models with less of that kind of thing aboard.
At the heart of these things is, of course, a microprocessor, so yeah – in essence, it’s computer controlled. With multiple sensors monitoring temperature, pressure, cooking time, and food volume, the IP takes a lot of the guesswork out of cooking, and has so far performed flawlessly for us – Take those beans again – From precooking, to sautéing ingredients for the final dish, to cooking all that thereafter, everything can be done seamlessly, in one pot.
And as we’ve known for a long time, pressure cooking – the heart of these things – seriously cuts down on cooking time for dishes that traditionally take quite a while. A primary impetus for my purchase was the fact that almost every posting member of the Vietnamese cooking group I belong to has one, uses it regularly, and swears by it. Even for something as sacred as broth for Pho, these folks go almost universally with an IP, and swear that you can’t tell the difference in the finished dish, vis a vis traditional low and slow methods.
Pressure cooking also does great things for flavor, because all that you add is sealed in, and relatively little escapes. Add the ability to slow cook, or do fairly tightly temperature controlled souls vide, let alone all the specialty settings, and you’ve got a seriously powerful kitchen tool.
These things come in a range of sizes and versions, and the Ultra, as lux as it may sound, isn’t the top of the heap. They range from 3 to 8 quarts, and $45 to $200, as of a quick check today. If you cook a bunch, and you appreciate what these things can do, you really can’t go wrong with picking one up – The scary part is how many people own, and use, more than one IP – I’m not there, and frankly, I’m cool with that.
Now, final caveat – No, I didn’t get an IP for free, or less, or any other version of paid BS endorsement. I bought mine, fair and square, for market price, just as you’ll do. We don’t do the endorsement thing here – Never have, never will, OK? OK.
Got this message the other day, from Mike and Sally Poutiatine,
Sally and I have a query – we noticed recently in Ireland that the produce there is SO much better than we get in our restaurants or stores in Spokane. We found eating either in a hole-in-the-wall pub or a 4-star Castle dining room the greens were equally good and way better than we find most of the time in Spokane. The veggies in general in Ireland were much better (though they tended to cook them about 10 times as long as necessary) – We found the same thing before when traveling in Italy, Japan and the UK in term of quality. Is it as simple as faster, more direct farm to table? Or do other countries just take green veggies more seriously than we do? Why is that?
My immediate response was this, ‘Oh, I am SO making this the next blog post – Great question!’
The serendipitous part of the question is this – Earlier, while watering our very bountifully producing little veggie and herb garden, (a daily ritual I not only love, but seem to need), I was contemplating the same thing. Our stuff tastes so much better than 90% of what we find for sale – The only thing that rivals it is found in trips to our local farmers market, and through good CSA operations. And therein lies the short answer – While M and I choose not to accept the produce status quo here, most Americans accept (and have been indoctrinated to expect), relatively shitty produce. That is not good, and it needs to change.
The first thing that comes to most folks minds when they experience this is the natural assumption that some combination of basic factors are better over there – Better soil, environmental conditions, and so on – But truth be told, that’s a bunch of hooey – writ large, there’s demonstrably nothing special about european soil, etc, that makes their produce taste better than American produce. This has been pretty well studied, and it comes down almost solely to the fact that most world food cultures other than ours value flavor and taste in their produce more than we do – That’s it. That said, we could be, (and more and more folks are), growing stuff every bit as good – it’s just not often sold in mass market grocery stores.
Let’s take tomatoes as an example – Many will cite the famous Italian San Marzano as the ne plus ultra of tomatodom, but truth? There are a lot of shitty San Marzanos, gang. Like anything else that gets wildly popular on a worldwide scale, production needs outstrip high quality real quick – And by the way, those things are basically Roma’s, a paste tomato variety – They’re great for sauce when grown right, but for other stuff – Not so much. Here on this side of the big pond, (where tomatoes originally come from, after all), you can bet there are some amazing ones. We make a point of planting Mighty ‘Mato grafted tomatoes each year – They’re a thing developed by Dr. Jim Baggett of Oregon State University. Grafting makes them stronger, more disease resistant, and boy oh boy, do they yield – And they’re stunningly lovely. Yet despite all that, they don’t lend themselves well to being sold en mass, so… Or take the case of horticulture Professor Harry Klee, of the University of Florida, creator of the Garden Gem. That’s an incredibly tasty, hearty, disease resistant variety with a great shelf life – But at roughly half the size of the ‘average’ grocery store tomato, virtually nobody appears interested in bringing those to you and me. And here’s the kicker – The Italians have ordered tens of thousands of Garden Gem seeds – Insult to injury for American consumers.
How about lettuces? Well, M and I grow those, and let me tell ya, those are exactly what I was thinking of when I was watering the other day – A simple salad we’d made had taste and texture, because of the lettuce – Shut up! Ah, but those aren’t nice, uniform, large, tough, resilient heads you can ship and display and sell for days, so, they’re out too.
Celery, maybe? Celery?! Tasteless, boring celery? Well, in the store, yes, that’s exactly what it is. Our plants are anything but. They have bold flavor to match a crisp, crunchy texture – The leaves alone are potent and complex – But they don’t grow in big, tight, uniform bunches either so again, no go.
Whatever you name – Chiles, peas, cucumbers, radishes, and any herb there is – You’ll find them in the store, but what you’ll find in this country is chosen for the unholy trinity of shipability, shelf life, and the appearance of relative bounty – Three things you and I definitely do not need.
Mike followed up with this thought, ‘I have always assumed that the produce we get from our stores is tasteless because the distance from producer to table is so far – and I am sure that is part of it. But your observation that we have grown used to bad produce is insightful. We eat bad produce because we just don’t care about produce.’
Sad but true, my friends. There’s a local garden here in our area, much beloved, and big enough to regularly supply local grocery stores with produce in season. It’s pretty, and it’s fresh, but frankly – It’s a local version of the same stuff we always see – It’s chosen for those three criterion I mentioned – And as such, there’s really no magic there.
The good news is that things do seem to be changing for the better. Folks of many generations here are growing tired of paying for crap, which is forcing Big Agro to change, some anyway. We see far more varieties of apples than days of old – Same goes for lettuce, onions, chiles, and so on – And there is stuff therein that is quite good, if we choose wisely. More and more stores are stating straight out where stuff comes from, which is good, and if you do your due diligence, there’s quite a bit more to be sussed out.
A lot of that process means really, truly checking out what you’re choosing – Do you squeeze, poke, prod, and sniff what you’re buying? Do you find a produce person and ask pointed questions? That might be anything from, where is this from and when did it get here, to what’s the harvest date on this, (there is damn near always a harvest or packing or production date), to ‘I don’t know how to tell a good (your selection here) from not – how do you do that?’ In any store worth your hard earned dough, they’ll be able to answer those questions – And if they can’t, (or you don’t ask), shame on you – You get what you pay for.
Mike’s next query was, ‘So what do we do in the US that shows the care and quality that we found in the seemingly universal high quality of Irish produce?’
The good news is that there are things to be found here, and that trend is slowly but surely growing, all over the country – If you read the Rancho Gordo bean post, there’s a shining example. Try those, and suddenly you’re thinking, ‘why am I buying these plastic bags and cans full of tasteless crap when these are out here?’ I’ve seen it first hand with stuff from our friends CSAs in Minnesota as well – How folks react when they have celery that has taste, what good lettuce is like, and so on.
As for a specific answer to Mike’s last question, I’d say this – If they come here planning to cook, and have facility for such and then go to an average grocery store, what will they get? Mostly crap, unfortunately. If they’re smart, which I think many are, they’ll seek out and find farmers markets – those are the gold standard here these days. In our relatively little town, there are dozens of producers offering gorgeous produce, grown with genuine love and care, just as we do here at home – I’ve had everything from rainbow carrots with amazing taste and crunch, to tiny fingerling potatoes that were melt in your mouth delicious, with a slight tang of the earth they came from as a back note.
So if there’s a unified field theory as to how we go about changing the status quo, this would be my three cents worth.
1. Always grow a garden. You can do this, damn near no matter where you live or what you live in. From window sill to big ol’ plot – Do it – You’ll get better produce, and perhaps more importantly, tending a garden and playing in dirt is good for your soul.
2. Find a Farmers Market near you and patronize that. You’re supporting the little, local folk, and nobody deserves that more – And again, you’ll generally get far superior produce to anything in a chain grocery store.
3. Find a CSA operation Netra you and patronize that. That’s Community Supported Agriculture – we’re the community, and the growers can be anything from those same folks who sell at farmers markets, to larger scale folks who do most of their selling through CSA – Again, no one I know is more deserving of your patronage, and frankly, no one I know is more deserving of great produce than you are.
Living as close to the border as we do, (you can pretty much throw rocks at it from here), Canada Day is a bit of a big deal. Held each July 1st, what once was known as Dominion Day harkens back to 1867. In that year, the British North America Act came into play, uniting the independent colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick into one big, happy Canada. Fifteen years later, the Canada Act made It Canada Day, and the rest is glorious history. Our northern pals pretty much have a holiday three day weekend every month, (which is incredibly sensible, by the way), but this is a biggy – Coming when it does, it means food, and in particular, stuff appropriate for a picnic, barbecue, what have you. We gathered our one available kid, (the eldest, sans grandkids but with dawg), and decided to do up an appropriate meal – And as fate would have it, this wouldn’t suck on the 4th of July, either.
We settled on brisket, because we had a lovely, local grass fed hunk of beef just begging to be honored. Naturally, we just had to do some bbq beans and potato salad to go with it. Might seem heavy, but frankly, it wasn’t at all – It was ethereal – Perfect, in fact.
With the day kind of cloudy and cold, I decided I’d rather do the brisket in the oven, rather than on the grill and smoker. This raises the issue of authenticity – A beautiful hunk of beef like that deserves all glory, laud, and honor, so the prep and cooking absolutely cannot be half assed. Secondly, I decided on beans too late in the day to do traditional slow cooked, so those would have to go in the Instant Pot, and again, be as good as the real deal. M rounded things out with a stunningly good potato salad. While this may sound pretty pedestrian, I assure you, it’s not – Everything came out surprisingly good – Good enough that we had to write it down and share it. While we do the same kind of things a lot, we’re constantly tweaking methods and recipes. When the stars align and a meal is this good, it’s time to stop, think, and write down exactly what you used and what you did, because yeah – It’s so worth recreating again.
Let me say that again – Whenever you make something great, write it down, right then and there. Stop and write it down. I do this daily – Everything from a few scratches on a post it note, (sometimes fast enough that I later can’t read them), to more than a few thousand words. My food notes are vast, and many haven’t yet been revisited since they were recorded – Some have been researched, added to, recipes fleshed out, etc, (which sometimes leads to me saying, ‘Yeah I gotta recipe for that,’ after which I discover that answer to be sorta kinda true at best.) In any case, here is a shining truism – The worst thing we can do when cooking is to think, I’ll remember that, because chances are real good that you won’t. Sure, if it’s a thing you do the same way every time, or a basic, you don’t need to record that, (unless you want to share it, of course.) When I’m after a new idea, more oft than not, I’ll plow into my raw notes, see something that triggers a memory, (or at least piques my interest), and away we go. If it struck you as great food, write it down, don’t lose it – As for remembering what you wrote it down on, and where that is – you’re on your own.
So the first challenge was that brisket. Having lived a dozen years in Texas, I know better than to screw with something so culinarily sacred – You are welcome to try alternatives to the Gold Standard, (even if it might earn you some sideways glances or a mumbled comment), but whatever you produce had damned well be real good, y’all hear? Now, far as I’m concerned, there are three non-negotiables for a finished brisket
It must have a nice, crisp crust formed by a dry rub.
It must have notable smoke to the flavor profile.
It must end up fork tender and juicy as all get out.
This version was good enough that, when M noted that Joe didn’t have a knife, his response was, ‘You don’t need one.’
Obviously the quality of the beef is paramount. We had that covered, but I guess I’m getting wimpy in my old age, because I just really didn’t wanna cook out there on a gray, drizzly day, so I sussed out a viable alternative method. When I do brisket on a grill, it’s charcoal, for sure – Two zone set up. Once it’s mostly done, it goes to the smoker for the last hour or so. My solution was to incorporate smoke into the rub, in the form of smoke powder from Butcher and Packer. Through what they call a “highly refined process,” smoke is turned into powder form and mixed with dextrose so that it won’t clump too much. What you get is true to the wood smoke flavor that will fool damn near anyone into thinking you smoked whatever it is you apply it to – In the immortal words of Jackie Chan, ‘No bullshit.’ They make hickory and mesquite, and they’re sublime stuff, indeed. Next, we plugged in an uncovered dry/covered wet cooking process that approximates grilling to a very acceptable degree.
My big twist here is a North African Berbere spice mix to the rub, which was totally serendipitous – It added a delightful, exotic warmth and heat that really popped. I intended to do my typical brisket rub that calls for chili powder, only to find that I didn’t have any mixed up. As I was searching, I saw the berbere and thought, why the hell not? Here’s the deal with that stuff, (but you could absolutely just sub chile powder if you’re not feeling adventurous.)
Urban’s Indoor Brisket
3-4 Pound Beef Brisket
1 1/2 Cups Beef Stock
2 Tablespoons Berbere Spice Blend
2 Tablespoons Sea Salt
2 Tablespoons Mesquite Smoke Powder
1 Tablespoon Granulated Garlic
1 Tablespoon Granulated Onion
1 Tablespoon ground Tellicherry Pepper
1 Tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar
2 teaspoons Dry Mustard
1/2 teaspoon crushed Sage
Preheat oven to 350° F
Unwrap and trim brisket, leaving a nice fat cap.
Combine all dry ingredients and hand blend thoroughly.
Rub a generous layer of the mix into all surfaces of the brisket – Do it by hand, take your time and really work the rub into the meat.
Place the brisket fat side up on a broiling pan.
Roast for 1 hour, uncovered.
Reduce the heat to 300° F, carefully add the beef stock to the bottom of the broiler pan, then tightly wrap and seal the entire pan with metal foil – Wrap it fairly tight to the meat – Don’t leave a whole bunch of air space around the brisket.
Roast for about another 3 hours, until the brisket is fork tender.
Remove from oven, keep the brisket covered and allow a 15 minute rest.
Carve roughly 1/4” slices across the grain and serve.
You can use pan juices as is, or transfer them to a sauté pan, add a little butter and a little more stock over medium heat, and use that as well.
Next came Beans, which I defaulted to the Instant Pot – I can assure you that they were amazing, and suffered not at all from that cooking method, (and I have witnesses). As you’ll see, it’s a three step cooking process with the IP, but it’s all done onboard, it’s super efficient, and the results are stunningly good.
Here again, quality matters a lot. You’ll recall that not long ago, I wrote a bit of a paean to Rancho Gordo beans – On the social media site for RG Club members, a newer convert recently commented as follows, ‘I love my beans so much, but… RG has ruined other beans for me. I can no longer grab a can of garbanzos or a bag of black beans, because they don’t even compare to the quality of RG beans.’ This is so true. I used a variety called Rio Zape, which RG owner Steve Sando describes as, ‘the classic heirloom bean that inspired the birth of Rancho Gordo. Suggestions of chocolate and coffee make this pinto-family rarity one of our favorite and most requested beans.’ It’s no joke – Those beans, coming out of the initial cook with nothing involved but a little salt, are amazing – Taste them, give them to others to taste, and everyone’s eyebrows go up and they start making little spontaneous yum yum noises – Get the picture? If you love beans, you must try Rancho Gordo – They’re that good.
Urban’s BBQ IP Beans
1 Pound Rancho Gordo Rio Zape Beans
1 small Sweet Onion
1-2 Serrano Chiles
6 slices Bacon
3/4 Cup Blackstrap Molasses
1/2 Cup Chicken Stock
1/2 Cup Ketchup
1/4 Cup Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Yellow Mustard
1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
3-4 Shakes of Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil for sautéing.
Add dry beans and 6 cups of water to the IP.
Set to Beans and 60 minutes and start the cook.
Allow the pressure to reduce by natural release.
Transfer beans to a colander and drain, (save the liquor for soups and stews – It freezes great)
Dice onion and chiles, cut bacon into roughly 1/4” strips across each piece, (the short way, so you end up with strips about 1/4” by 3/4” or thereabouts.
In a non-reactive mixing bowl, combine molasses, ketchup, mustard, agave nectar, vinegar, and Worcestershire – Whisk thoroughly to incorporate.
Set the IP on sauté, add the tablespoon of avocado oil and allow it to heat through.
Add onion, chiles, and bacon – Sauté until onion is soft and bacon lightly browned – about 3 to 4 minutes.
Turn IP off, leaving veggies and bacon therein. Deglaze the bottom of the IP pan with 1/2 cup of chicken stock, scraping up and loosening all the naughty bits.
Add beans and sauce to veggies, bacon, and stock, and gently stir to incorporate thoroughly.
Set for normal pressure run, 30 minutes.
And finally, M’s potato salad incorporates two different pickle flavors that really shine together – Dills in the salad, and bread and butter brine in the dressing. It was stellar.
M’s Two Pickle Potato Salad
4 large Potatoes
1/2 Cup Sweet Onion, diced
1 stalk Celery, fine diced
1 Cup Olive Oil Mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon Yellow Mustard
1 Tablespoon minced fresh Dill
2 teaspoons minced fresh Parsley
2-3 dill pickles, fine diced
1/3 Cup Bread & Butter Pickle Brine
Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper to taste.
Prepare an ice bath in a large mixing bowl.
Put eggs in a pan large enough to cover with 2” or so of water.
Bring to a boil, cover, then turn the heat off, and let them sit in the covered pan for 20 minutes.
Pour out the hot water and replace with cold a couple of times, then let the eggs sit in that until you’re ready to deal with them.
Boil potatoes until just fork tender, then plunge into the ice bath to shock, (stops the cooking process).
Prepare veggies as per above.
In a large non-reactive mixing bowl, add potatoes and veggies, including pickles, and eggs. Stir gently with a kitchen spoon to thoroughly combine.
Add mayo, mustard, dill, parsley, pickle brine, and lightly salt and pepper. Stir to combine and thoroughly coat the salad. Taste and adjust brine, salt, and pepper to your liking. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes prior to serving.
Yet another alert reader let me know that the print function for posts seemed to have disappeared, further noting, ‘I’m pretty sure you used to have one…’
Glad somebody was paying attention, ’cause clearly I wasn’t, and yeah, I sure did have one.
Anyway… Print services have been restored. There’s a little green button at the bottom of each post. Click that, and it’ll give you options to print, convert to PDF, email, and such. You can also edit, pruning off my long winded harangues and just printing recipes and what not, too.
Alert blog follower Hannah sent this note from southwestern Oregon – ‘I read about you guys changing up stuff you made earlier, for subsequent meals – The last one was an Instagram of tacos where you did “a complete 180° on the seasoning” but you didn’t explain how or what you did. The same thing happened with the Chinese barbecued pork you converted to Italian, but you didn’t tell how to do that either. We’re not all wizards, so you need to explain this better!’
Hannah, with my sincere apologies, you are absolutely correct. Allow me to rectify that – And if it seems like Hannah’s reading me the riot act, she’s got a right to – I didn’t explain any of that stuff. Now, in my defense, these were both follow up images and short descriptives, secondary to a post, that as she mentioned, were on other social media sites – FB, Instagram, Twitter and the like. I though of them as throw away stuff, home food porn, but no longer – Hannah is 100% right – If I’m gonna crow about our mad skills, I gotta share the goods.
Before we talk about conversion, we gotta back up a few steps. If you’re making a French dish, what should the core seasonings be? What if it’s Italian, Spanish, Indian, North African, Mexican, South American, Caribbean, and so on? There are so many regional variations in all those examples that this kind of thing can be a bit hard to pin down – In northern France, you might find thyme, sage, and coriander, while in the south, it’s likely to be something more Provençal – marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and lavender, maybe. Same thing in every place I mentioned, frankly. With the very welcome spread of cookbooks and recipes focusing more on regional cuisines than some perceived national pastiche, us home cooks are blessed with many more options than even a decade ago. All that can make things a bit tougher to convert to something wholly different, but frankly, we don’t need to do that to succeed at the game.
So what is the trick to turning those ribs into tacos? Not as much as you’d think – Hell, you could probably do not a damn thing, call it fusion, and be on your merry way… But seriously, the trick, such as it is, is simply knowing what the major and minor seasoning notes are for the thing you’re working with, and building up or down from there – I say up or down purposefully, because if you want something Chinese to taste reasonable Italian, the task at hand may be to add, but it could also involve subtraction. Let’s use those two examples Hannah cited to dig into this thing.
In both instances we’re talking about proteins. This comes up as a thing we tweak fairly often because of how we cook and plan meals – A big ol’ batch of poultry, pork, or beef is oft what we cook early in the week, and then make a buncha meals thereafter, (and we covered this pretty well in our Meal Planning post btw). First step in swinging the seasoning profile of a protein in another direction is having a pretty good grasp of what’s powering it currently. If you made it, that’s easy enough, but what about a leftover from somewhere else, or taking a step farther out – tasting something and thinking, ‘I could do this at home, and I’d like to’ – How do you parse that? Far and away, the easiest way to suss it out is to ask the Chef – Chances are good they’ll tell you, and then you’re off to the races.
But what about sleuthing things out for yourself, how does that work? There’s no cut and dried formula for doing this that I can think of offhand, other than to state the obvious – The more herbs, spices and other seasoning constituents you own and use with some frequency, the better you’ll be at identifying them in the wild – Consider it a delicious form of behavioral conditioning. Again, not everybody has the same palate, but nonetheless, practice makes perfect, so build a great pantry and familiarize yourself with as much as you can – Getting curious about world cuisine is the way to discover new tastes and combinations.
OK, so Hannah’s Bane – starting with the ribs to tacos. The ribs were a first run experiment by M from something she’d found and tweaked to her liking – Ribs done in the slow cooker, with a nontraditional twist on the marinade and sauce. She did, for two racks of ribs,
For the Rib Marinade
1/2 Cup Water
1/3 Cup Live Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Sweet Onion, minced
6 Cloves fresh Garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons Yellow Mustard
2 Tablespoons coarse Sea Salt
2 teaspoons Lemon Thyme
1 teaspoon ground Tellicherry Pepper
For the Glaze
1/2 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 Cup Agave Nectar
1 teaspoon Arrowroot
1/2 teaspoon Chile flake
Pinch of Sea Salt
They were killer by the way – Try this on nice fresh baby backs and then thank M later. We had a slew of these things, and after 3 days of ribs, ribs, and ribs, we were kinda tired of that, so I decided to strip all the meat off the remainder and turn it into taco fodder. Now, looking at that ingredients list, you can see right off that I took poetic license with the line Hannah quoted, “a complete 180° on the seasoning,” ‘cause yeah – in a word, Eben? Bullshit. That’s already pretty damn close to a bunch of Mexican regional seasoning blends you’ve got on there. What I did was to throw diced chiles and more onion in a sauté pan, sweat them, then added chicken stock, cilantro, lime juice, and tomatoes to the mix, and let that simmer until everything was heated through and married – Boom, taco ribs. Get the picture? No, they won’t taste at all like they did as whole ribs, and yeah, now they are reasonably more Mexican in taste profile.
Now, how about that Chinese barbecued Pork to Italian thing, then? This one admittedly took a bit more work to pull off effectively, but nothing earthshaking, and again – I made the original dish, so I knew exactly what was in there, right? The pork was my latest swing at Char Siu, derived from a Grace Young recipe in Breath of a Wok. I’ve not posted this previously, so here’s first look for y’all, (and John Joyce? This one’s for you, Buddy!)
For each Pound of Pork Shoulder
2 Tablespoons Dark Soy Sauce (I recommend Pearl River)
2 Tablespoons Tamari
2 Tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
2 Tablespoons Pixian Doubanjiang Chile Bean Sauce
2 Tablespoons Shao Hsing Rice Wine
2 Tablespoons Bakers Sugar
2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar
2 teaspoons Sesame Oil
1/2 teaspoon Ground Grains of Paradise
The Pork marinates in this mix for 48 hours, then is seared over an initially hot grill, basted with the remaining sauce and finished on a medium grill until internal temp runs 145°, then rested. If you use charcoal, a two zone grill set up will do this to perfection.
This stuff was fork tender and incredibly tasty, but again, after so many meals, I just needed to switch things up, and so I decided to make tomato based pasta sauce with the remainder. Granted, there are some potent Chinese regional tastes involved in that pork, but again, it’s not as discordant as it may seem at first glance. Central and northern Italian tomato pasta sauces can and do have some of those warm, earthy, and spicy notes, albeit not the same ones.
I gave the pork a quick rinse and ground it with the attachment on my Kitchenaid mixer, (you don’t need to do that, a simple rinse and mince would do just fine). As you can see from the plated image, the marinade, even after 48 hours, doesn’t get all that deep into the pork, so doing what you can to expose a bunch of the unseasoned meat gives solid ground for new flavors – The old stuff becomes interesting background that you can’t quite put your finger on, rather than a very forward Chinese.
Next comes the Italian rebranding – A big stew pot over medium heat, with a generous slug of olive oil gets soffritto – the classic Italian aromatic base mix of onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and garlic. Add stock, tomatoes, the pork, bay leaf, oregano, rosemary, lemon thyme, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper, and basil to finish, and wham, you’ve got a complex, earthy pasta sauce that tastes like you put far more work into it than you did – Never a bad thing.
Now, who caught the trick I used in these examples? Somebody, anybody, Bueller? There was one ya know – A small but potent anchor to all such conversions – It’s the aromatic bases. For the switch to tacos, it was onion and chile. For the Italian, soffritto – See that? Fortunately for you, we wrote a very nice piece on aromatic bases that you can use as a launching pad for further exploration. It really is a key – When you take those deep, fundamental roots of a flavor profile and set them as your new solid base, switching gears becomes a simple matter of preference thereafter.
Now, resources – A thing I’ve mentioned here several times and online a lot – Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg’s magnum opus, The Flavor Bible. This is a reference work with some serious horsepower – Whole menus can be worked up from the stuff therein, and should be – For my mind, with that book, and Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, you’ve got a very solid basic research library to design a world cuisine of your own from.
Now – One final note – This concept is not mine, and it’s not new. In fact, it’s very old, and it stems from common sense, first and foremost. In French, it’s called Garde Manger, and it loosely translates as ‘Keeper of the Food.’ This is way cooler than you can imagine if you really dig cooking. The first fine dining restaurant I worked in, back in the mid ‘70’s, was French, (and that cuisine is where the term comes from and from where, arguably, the art reached its pinnacle). The second was in Sun Valley, Idaho – Another kitchen run by French Chefs. In those places, the Chef de Garde Manger was the best there was – Old guys with a wealth of experience, tremendous patience, and endless inventiveness. Garde manger is still around, albeit not as prominent, or as likely to display that level of experience. It’s always the cold dish station – Salads, hors d’œuvres (horse doovers as my Sis and I like to quip…), appetizers, canapés, pâtés, terrines, and such. Although it’s less prevalent now, the key role of that Chef was transforming leftovers into something new, something appealing, something that would sell – And it was magical, indeed – That spirit is sparked within me every time I do something like we discussed today. If any of this strikes your fancy, then I’ll recommend another great resource – Frederick Sonnenschmidt and John Nicolas’, The Art of Garde Manger – It’s the real deal, and a delightful read. Dig in.
We made a dried apricot tart this weekend, which we tweaked to our liking, (or so we thought). It cam from a recipe M found online. I’ll bet you’re expecting to see that tweaked recipe down at the end of this post too, yeah? Well, truth be told, there will be a recipe at the end, but it won’t be this one -we need to talk about recipe development.
The recipe came from what we shall call a Very Established And Respected Public Source for writing about food. Whether it’s Monica or me that gets an itch to make something and turn it into our own, we both do our due diligence – AKA, research. I work in the food biz, she does not, but the roots of the process are similar regardless of whether it’s her, me, or us doing the work. If it’s me doing the lion’s share, I tend to use resources like The Flavor Bible, Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, and various other regional or genre experts for thoughts on ingredients, technique, and the like. Monica tends to go for a mainstream recipe, which she studies and then alters to achieve what she is after.
Fact is, both routes are just fine and work pretty much equally well. Granted, I have more arcane food knowledge in my noggin, and as such, I tend to model on or alter recipes less than she does – But that doesn’t mean my method is better – it may take fewer tries to get where we want to go, but that’s really neither here nor there when it comes to the end result. It would be disingenuous to say I create more recipes than she does because of differences in method – I create more because I do the majority of the cooking and developing – There’s really nothing more operative in that regard.
My point with that last paragraph is this – I hear a lot of folks who seem almost embarrassed to say that they made something their own, when ‘all I did was tweak a recipe.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Fact is, even great chefs, legendary chefs, do exactly that. That is why, almost every post here includes some variation on the phrase, make it yours – Because when you put your stamp on it, and then repeat it, and it becomes a beloved standard for you, then my friend, that recipe is 100%, no doubt about it, yours.
So, what about this recipe would warrant me stating that it definitely needed further development? Well, frankly, it’s because the finished tart sucked. Bad. Now, that said – the caveats – Yes, it’s possible we screwed it up, (we didn’t), or that our ingredients were sub-par, (they weren’t), but the fact is, that recipe just was not designed or explained well at all. I knew it, truth be told, and so did M – But this was again, from a very reputable source, so we thought, what the hell, we’ll give it a spin – You have to do that sometimes, because there may well be magic where you least expect it, and if you don’t try it, you’ll never know. I gotta say though, in this case, it used some ingredients that are not cheap, so springing for that stuff and ending up with sub par results should not make a consumer happy.
We really tried with this thing. Again, we added a couple twists of our own, but nothing earthshaking – We didn’t have mascarpone in house, so we subbed cream cheese, heavy cream, and sour cream – That’s a certified, A-OK cheat, by the way, (but again? I knew better, and we did it anyway – My bad…) We also added a few dried cranberries, because they go nicely with apricots, and well, why not? And… It sucked. We ate a piece each, and the rest went to the squirrels and jays, (sorry, fellas). So why did that happen?
The answer to that requires digging in a bit deeper. First off, reading all 30+ of the review comments left by folks who made the recipe, (which supposedly received a 4 out of 5 star rating), it became immediately evident that almost no one said outright that this was a great tart recipe. In fact, overwhelmingly, people had trouble interpreting it, and said so – It was too vague, didn’t speak thoroughly to method, ingredient handling, or proper bakeware. Another healthy chunk said, in so many words, that it didn’t taste good – it was dry, had too much crust, the apricots shouldn’t have been left whole as shown, and so on. Several folks complained about the custard.So how did this thing score so highly? Good question.
I noted the following. The ‘custard’ was, in fact, mascarpone, eggs, sugar, and almond extract – Which is not custard. The recipe never stated how thick the crust should end up, and frankly, the mix they used was more of a pie crust than a tart crust, and yes, there’s a difference. It called for bringing 2/3 cup of whiskey and 30 dried apricots ‘to a simmer and then set aside’, which is insufficient to soften dried fruits, or to burn off the alcohol. It listed an egg yolk in ingredients that didn’t make it to procedure, and a couple of tablespoons of water showed up in procedure that were not in the ingredient list.
This was not from a home blogger, gang. This was from a major publication with over 100 years of experience – And they screwed it up. I’m not saying that to make them look bad – I’m really not – I’m saying it because it illustrates how tough it can be to create and share a good recipe, what can happen if you don’t, and why there’s a big time caveat emptor consideration for home cooks with damn near any recipe.
So, what did it actually take to fix this thing? A little more work, a few less sort cuts, and a little better narrative. First off, we made a real tart crust, (and for the record, for a 9” to 10” tart, that should be around 1/4” thick, and thinner yet if you’re doing tartlets). Secondly, softening dried fruit in booze is costly, especially if you use the proper amount, which means enough to completely cover and submerge 30 some odd apricots – You can see from our image that the proscribed amount wasn’t even close in that regard. And in any event, doing that is simply not as effective as hot water – If you want the taste of whisky or whatever, a quarter cup in a sauce pan over medium heat, simmered until the raw booze smell dissipates and the liquid thickens slightly, then cooled and added to the custard, will do the trick much better. And finally, custard is custard, gang. That’s milk heated gently and mixed with eggs, which act as a thickener – again, mascarpone doth not a custard make – That stuff is basically cream cheese that is already quite stiff. Adding eggs and sugar and flavoring to that will not make a custard – It’ll make an eggy, sweet cream cheese, which is not, repeat not, what we’re after here. So – All that said, here’s what we did for the one we ate all of.
Dried Apricot and Cranberry Tart
For the Tart
1 Cup Pastry Flour
1/2 Cup Almond Flour
1/4 Cup Bakers Sugar
1/2 Cup Cold Unsalted Butter
1 Large Egg
Pinch Sea Salt
You can do the tart by hand, which is my preferred method, or you can do it in a food processor, which is M’s preferred method – Either is just fine.
In a large mixing bowl, (or the processor), add flours, sugar, and salt and combine thoroughly.
Cut butter into roughly 1/4” cubes. Add that to the dry mix and combine by hand or process until the mixture looks like coarse corn meal.
Add the egg and incorporate thoroughly, but don’t go overboard – you don’t want the dough forming a ball on its own – You can check for done by squishing a hunk between your thumb and dialing finger – It should stick together, but not feel dry, or fall apart, (it also should not be sticky).
Pull the dough and form it into a roughly 1” disk. Wrap that in waxed paper and refrigerate for an hour, at least, (and longer is fine – Even up to a couple days – You can also freeze it, so long as you refrigerator thaw overnight prior to use).
When you’re ready to go, preheat your oven to 375° F and place a rack in a middle position.
You’ll want either a tart pan or a pie pan to bake in – Either really is fine.
Lightly grease the pan with butter.
Place the dough between sheets of waxed paper or parchment, and roll it out to about 1/4” thickness.
Carefully peel one sheet of paper off the dough and place it onto your chosen pan.
Use a fork and liberally and evenly prick the crust.
Cover the tart with a shaped piece of parchment, then use pie weights, beans, or rice to weigh down the tart.
Bake at 375° F for about 20-25 minutes, until the tart looks firm and is beginning to pull away from the edges of the pan.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
For the Filling/Custard
About 40 dried Apricots
1/4 Cup dried, sweetened Cranberries
1 small Lemon
1 Cup heavy Cream
2 Large Eggs
1 Egg Yolk
1/2 Cup Bakers Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Set aside about a dozen apricots and 6-8 cranberries.
Place the rest of the dried fruit into a mixing bowl.
Quarter the lemon, squeeze out the juice and add it to the rest of the fruit.
Cover the fruit with boiling water and allow it to steep for 15 minutes.
When the fruit is hydrated, pour off the liquid through a single mesh strainer, reserve the fruit.
Chop the reserved dozen apricots and the cranberries, set aside.
Preheat oven to 350° F and make sure there’s still a rack in the middle position.
In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and sugar. Whisk thoroughly to incorporate – You want to get some air into this mix, so take your time – 2 to 3 minutes or so.
In a sauce pan over medium heat, scald the cream – That is, heat it until small bubbles start to form at the edges of the liquid.
Remove the cream from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
Slowly add the cream to the egg and sugar mixture, whisking steadily but gently – Don’t put too much of the hot cream in at a time – You want to temper the egg mix slowly, so that it doesn’t curdle.
Place whole apricots and cherries evenly across the tart, then carefully pour the custard onto the fruit.
Top tart with the chopped apricots around the rim of the tart, and the cranberries in the middle.
Bake at 350° F for 35 to 45 minutes, until custard is firm but still jiggles a bit in the middle, and fruit is slightly browned.
Remove from heat and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
Garnish with mint, if you like. You certainly may add whipped cream or crème fraiche as well.
Antiplasticestablishmentarianism – There, I said it – In fact, I think I just invented it, (the word, anyhoo…) The word today is plastic, and as my tongue in cheek neologism is meant toimply, it’s a thing deeply entrenched in our world, and that’s not good – We need to do something about all the plastic in our kitchens.
The root word I bastardized means, in essence, that the user finds, ‘a nation’s policy or attitude corrupt and exploitative,’ among other diatribes. Frankly, I can’t think of a thing more demonstrative of that than our massive use and abuse of plastic – Not even politics. There’s zero doubt in my mind that this abuse focuses more around food than any other aspect of modern life.
Look through your kitchen as we have ours, and chances are, it’s a plastic rich environment, indeed. Granted, some of that is reasonable, to a degree – The large plastic storage jars with wide lids that we’ve had for years, for example, don’t seem all that bad, nor might the other, smaller storage boxes that get daily use. We bought all those because they were cheap, light, and they worked, of course. Plastic wrap? Got it, albeit it doesn’t get used much at all. Plastic bags? Oh my, yes, in everything from snack to gallon. Hmmm… The garbage and trash bags have been biodegradable versions for a while now, but all that other stuff – Hmmm.
We could probably assuage our growing guilt if we considered that we recycle diligently – Well, M does, anyway – She’s the recycle Nazi in our house. That doesn’t mean I cheat purposefully, but it does mean she has to remind me that wine corks and metal foil don’t go in recycling, and anyway, I haul the bins out to the curb each week – That aughta be worth some kinda dispensation, shouldn’t it?
All in all, according to a recent National Geographic piece, ‘The world generates at least 3.5 million tons of plastic and other solid waste a day, 10 times the amount a century ago, according to World Bank researchers. The U.S. is the king of trash, producing a world-leading 250 million tons a year—roughly 4.4 pounds of trash per person per day.’ To not know that plastic is choking our oceans, landfills, land in general, everything, you’d have to be living in a cave, under a rock. So the question is, what can we do about it, us little folk? That answer has to be formed with our kitchens in mind, because the lion’s share of the overall waste we produce, and especially plastic, lives there. The answer is, surprisingly, quite a bit.
One of the easiest things to do is get rid of plastic wrap and plastic bags, because that’s where most of the kitchen use comes from. There are reusable silicone zip lock bags and sheets out there, but they’re expensive, and frankly, that doesn’t seem like a very smart answer in a busy kitchen. Nobody that I could find makes recyclable zip lock or food grade plastic bags, yet, but I’ll bet it’s coming. In any event, it seems a lot smarter to just eliminate that crap.
Most community recycling programs don’t accept plastic bags in your curbside bins, albeit you can recycle a lot of that stuff at many grocery stores – The list of what’s OK to drop off there looks something like this –
plastic shopping bags (from any store — remove receipts, etc.)
food packaging (Ziploc-type bags)
plastic liners from cereal boxes (do not include if they tear like paper)
product wrapping (such as covers a case of water bottles, etc.)
bubble wrap and air pillows (popped)
plastic shipping envelopes (remove labeling)
And you should make sure that what you drop off is clean and dry – Stuff with food waste on it is gross and unsanitary, no matter where you drop it off, and it’ll contaminate the clean stuff other folks left.
What they generally will not take includes,
frozen food bags
cereal box liners that tear like paper
pre-washed salad bags
candy bar wrappers
There are makers of many things turning to non-plastic containers, and they’re worth pursuing if you can – Our laundry detergent even comes in what is, basically, paper packaging and is biodegradable – It’s found in the ‘natural’ stuff, which most mainstream grocery stores have at least some of these days. Those biodegradable trash bags are very decent by the way – Not super expensive, and they don’t fall apart with stuff in them, either.
The best route to go in your kitchen is to eliminate plastic wrap and bags, and that’s what we’re going to do – We’re transitioning to solid food containers across the board – Yes some of those are plastic, but a lot are glass – they last for many years, and as such, really can change the waste equation to a significant degree. The other side of that equation is to not collect a whole shitload of plastic when you hit the store. There are string and mesh bags designed for produce that you can bring with you, along with your reusable grocery bags – And if you bring those, you can get by without further plastic just fine. Stuff like lettuce, cabbage, cilantro, and so on does not need to sit in a plastic bag to last in your fridge. Moist paper towel, or clean kitchen towels work fine – Your crisper bins probably work better without an additional layer of plastic anyway, truth be told. If you get your meat, fish, poultry and such from the butcher counter, you get paper wrappers instead of plastic and foam, and that’s very good indeed. And frankly, not buying stuff like pre-whatevered produce is not only better for the plastic count, it’s better food as well. Better yet, find your local farmer’s market and buy there instead of the big name grocery stores. And frankly, if ever there was a plug for shopping as many parts of the world still do – What you need for a few days every few days – This strategy would be it.
The big picture view of all this is changing radically – China and various other countries don’t want our trash any more, because they’re all generating a hell of a lot more of their own – That makes our first world problems 100% ours, and we really can’t afford to be callous and clueless any more. We’re taking some significant strides to clean up our act, and we invite y’all to do the same – If every household does what they can, it’s a firm step in the right direction.
Let’s just address the elephant in the room, right off the bat – Beans are not exactly what one would call sexy food, right? Well, were we talking about the decidedly pedestrian offerings we’re all too used to seeing out there, I’d agree. Yet, when you consider what a little outfit based in California has been quietly doing for beans lately, the answer is a resounding, wrong – Because Rancho Gordo is making beans sexy again.
Back about a decade or so, I discovered Rancho Gordo and some truly amazing beans. No, seriously – Truly amazing beans. We’re talking the kind of beans that you try a couple of after they’re just done cooking, and then you raise an eyebrow, and then you try more, all the while thinking, ‘damn! Those are outstanding!’ – Beans that good. Then I kinda forgot about them, for who knows what reason, until just recently, when we were reunited. In the meantime, Steve Sando and the Rancho crew had gone from harvesting a few thousand pounds a year to hundreds of thousands of pounds, and many, many more varieties. What John Bunker has done for apples in Maine, Sando is doing for beans. NOTE: When I asked Steve what their current production was, he wrote, “A lot!We’re in the middle of planning and we’re not sure where we’ll land.”
Sando wasn’t an agricultural expert, by any sense of the words, when he started this endeavor. He’d been, in fact, a web designer, DJ, and clothing wholesaler who happened to like to cook. He also lived in Napa, one of the lushest areas for food and wine one could wish for. Yet when he headed out one day in search of good tomatoes, he found… Crap. Nada – Nasty, hard, hothouse tomatoes from Holland were the best thing in sight. Since he was already an accomplished Jack of All Trades, he decided to take a swing at growing heirloom tomatoes and other veggies he’d like to cook with. Eventually, that lead to beans, and therein was made a match in culinary Heaven. Sando and crew have, in fifteen years or so, gone from humble origins to major stardom in the foodie world, with luminaries like Thomas Keller using Rancho Gordo beans in his restaurants, and an heirloom variety named after Marcella Hazan.
If you haven’t read the recent New Yorker piece on Sando and Rancho, do. It’s a wonderful vignette of the work they do, searching out new-to-us but old bean varieties, and bringing them to the rest of us. As Rancho Gordo grows, so does the search – That has spread throughout the Americas, from modest beginnings in California, through Mexico, and in to South America, (with inroads to Europe, including that Marcella bean, which naturally has Italian roots.) Their Rancho Gordo Xoxoc Project teams them up with a very fine Mexican outfit, to bring stunningly good heirloom Mexican beans to the markets up here in Gringolandia.
Oh, those beans! Seriously! We’re not talking flaccid plastic bags full of dullness – we’re talking rock stars, peacocks, a veritable rainbow of delights for the eye and stomach. Go to the Heirloom Bean Page on Rancho Gordo’s website and you’ll see, currently, thirty varieties that shine and sparkle. There’s no dullness here – There are glowing tones of red, black, white, cream, and purple – Shining solids, stripes, and blends. Let me assure you that these gems look every bit as good in person, even after they’re cooked.
And cook them you must, my friends. Yes, although I sound like a broken record, they are better than ‘that good.’ That’s important for a couple of reasons. First off, meatless meals are a thing we need to do more often. The world grows smaller as we continue to overpopulate it. Meat takes a hell of a lot of energy to produce, rather ridiculous amounts, truth be told. When we consider how and what and who produces food these days, things get grimmer yet. Up through most American history, well over 50% of the people lived in rural areas and were involved, in some degree, with farming and producing food. That figure is now around 1%, and ya can’t get a hell of a lot lower than that. Secondly, as agricultural area diminishes, or is generally overrun by huge corporate farming, diversity suffers foremost – That’s the reason why a visit to your local grocery finds those boring bags of industrial beans. Just as apples have rebounded, (leading to far greater availability of what were niche varieties), beans need to make that leap too, right into our gardens.
Beans are members of the legume family, which includes other such notables as peas, clover, and the lovely lupines that Monica planted out in front of our new digs this spring. Legumes have a great trick, a symbiosis with rhizobia, a common bacteria that are capable of fixing nitrogen, so long as they have a suitable host – Legumes provide that, so rhizobia settle into the plant’s root nodes and good things result. Instead of depleting soil, they enrich it. Fact is, planting beans or field peas at the end of your garden’s annual sojourn, (AKA, late fall), will not only help stabilize soils during the wet months, it’ll provide your next round of crops with a decent nitrogen fix, if you cut them down before they flower in the spring.
And for the record, Rancho Gordo not only approves of, but encourages home cultivation – Right there at the top of the Heirloom Bean Page, it reads, ‘Heirloom Beans are open-pollinated seeds that can be planted and you’ll get the exact same bean. They tend to have a lower yield and can be much more difficult to grow but the pay off is in the unique flavors and textures that you don’t find with bland commodity beans.’ Hey, everybody needs to start somewhere, yeah? Why not start with the best? RG doesn’t stop there, by the way – Sando wrote, The Heirloom Bean Grower’s Guide, which’ll provide all the knowledge you need – Just add horsepower.
Then there are the nutritional considerations. Beans provide ample calories in a high protein, low fat package, with a low glycemic index, that includes complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and a generous sprinkling of vitamins and minerals. The USDA recommends we eat 3 cups of legumes a week as part of a healthy diet, and beans ought to be your star player in that endeavor. Now granted, all of that ain’t worth a Hill of beans if you don’t like the taste of ‘em. If what you’ve been exposed to is the seemingly endless world of canned and highly processed, or dried, low quality crap, who can blame you? Trust me when I say that Rancho Gordo is here to save the day.
As I mentioned, these beans are so far above the norm, they’re downright stratospheric. Go online, and look up threads of folks discussing cooking and eating these little beasties – you’ll read, repeatedly, something to the effect of ‘I was snacking on them so much, I was worried I wouldn’t have enough left for the dish I’d intended to make.’ They’re not joking. The first time I cooked some since my reintroduction, I experienced exactly that. Those were Vaqueros, by the way, gorgeous little black and white beauties that make amazing chili, (and are perfect for the Pacific Northwest – Their nickname is Orca Beans). Damn near anything and everything you want to eat with them or cook them into will be amazing, and just like that, your bean aversion is alleviated.
And the labels, well, those are just a fun, campy kick in the ass, far as I’m concerned. Sando was a web designer, you’ll recall, and he certainly does have an eye for catchy. They’re instantly recognizable, and downright appealing, and yeah, that kinda stuff does matter. Remember those dull, boring bags at the store? Well, screw that – These are as fun to look as they are to eat.
Alright, so whataya make with these things, anyway? Well, as I alluded to above, the sky’s the limit. From just beans, to salads, dips, and spreads. Soups, stews, and chili, to cassoulet, pasta y fagioli, and chakalaka, everything you make, from super simple to legendary, will be outstanding. For my mind, the simpler you start with, the better. Let the beans speak to before you layer them into other stuff. I’m not kidding. Eating these with an extraordinarily light seasoning hand will show you exactly what I’m gushing about. Sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, a drizzle of very good olive oil, maybe a chiffenade of a single, fresh basil leaf – nothing more – Yes, they have that much flavor and character. Do that, and on the second round, you’ll know exactly what each one will shone at when you really turn it loose. Your second wave might be a lovely bean and wild rice salad for something cold, or red beans and rice for a hot dish. After that, dive into the longer, slower stuff.
Now, when you want to genuinely layer up, and make something that will show what Rancho Gordo beans can really do, I’ll offer this recipe up, the very first elaborate one I made after RGB’s and I got reacquainted. I did it in an Instant Pot, (AKA, the IP, a truly spectacular electric, programmable pressure cooker, if you’re not familiar with them.)I’ll recommend using one, because the primary benefit of an Instant Pot can be summed up as follows – The entire process can be done in that appliance, and the total cooking time is only 18 minutes, and that includes pre-cooking the beans, yet the finished dish will taste like you slaved away all day – Capiche? If you don’t have an IP, you can soak, parboil, or bake the beans first, (Type ‘Beans’ into the search box here and you’ll get a bunch of options in that regard), then you can slow cook them as you see fit.
1 Pound Rancho Gordo Vaquero Beans
1/4 Pound Pork (whatever version you’ve got on hand)
1 Cup Chicken Stock
1/2 Cup Sweet Pepper, chopped
1/2 Cup Onion, chopped
1/4 Cup fresh Cilantro, chopped
1 to 3 fresh Serrano Chiles, cut into roughly 1/4” thick rings
1-2 cloves fresh Garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano
1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
Garnish: Crema or sour cream, hot sauce, more cilantro, fresh lime, Pico de Gallo, and so on, si?
Add dry beans and 8 cups of water to the Instant Pot.
Set the IP to 8 minutes on Pressure and let ‘er rip.
I used precooked pork – Use whatever you’ve got, from ground, to whole, to bacon.
If your pork is uncooked, give it a quick sauté to just brown it and get rid of most of the pink. When that’s done, transfer it to a small bowl and let it hang out while you continue. NOTE: If you’ve got a fatty cut of pork, trim the lion’s share and reserve it – You’ll use it shortly.
After the pressure cycle is completed, allow the pot to stay on Keep Warm mode for 10 minutes, then carefully release the remaining pressure on the IP. Use a towel or hot pads to grab the cooking vessel, then drain the beans through a colander – It’s always a good idea to save the pot liquor, it’ll be great for soups and stews down the line, and it freezes well.
Return the cooking vessel to the IP and set it to sauté.
When the IP is heated, add the reserved pork fat, (a tablespoon of avocado oil will do if you don’t have fat).
Allow the fat to melt (or the oil to heat through), then add the onion, sweet pepper, garlic, and chiles, and sauté, stirring lightly, until the onions start to turn translucent.
Add the chicken stock, pork, beans, cilantro, and seasoning to the IP and lock the cover back down.
Set the IP for 10 minutes at Pressure and let it go.
When the pressure cycle is complete, press Cancel, and let the IP’s pressure bleed off through ‘Natural Release’ – It’ll be about 20-25 minutes before you can unlock the cover.
Give beans a quick stir, taste, and adjust seasoning as desired.
Serve with whatever accoutrements you desire, albeit you’ll not really need anything else…
NOTE: Because I always get asked, I always point out the following – No, I do not get any sort of endorsement deal/perks/freebies from anyone or anything I review or recommend. I bought my Instant Pot same as you, as I do my Rancho Gordo beans and other goodies, (and oh boy, do they have other goodies – Go to the site and poke around, for cryin’ out loud!)I recommend what I love, because I want to share it with y’all – It’s that simple.
The volume of my Rancho Gordo stash, (and no, that’s not all of it, gang…) should illustrate the fact that I love their stuff. If, when you get there, six bucks seems expensive for a pound of beans, believe me when I tell you, it’s not. You’ll get a couple of great meals from that bag, without having to add a lot of other expense – That’s not pricy, that’s well worth your money, and you’re helping maintain little growers all over the place, as well as genetic diversity – Both very good things.
I’ll also mention that I belong to the Rancho Gordo Bean Club, in which you get a big ol’ shipment 4 times a year for $40 a pop, which includes six bags of beans, plus another goody, (like red popcorn, hominy, or cacao, to name but a few, as well as free shipping for something else in that quarter, and a newsletter with great recipes. The club was closed at 1,000 members for quite a while, and then was recently expanded and reopened. If you really dig Beans, you’re a fool not to join. There’s also a FB group for the club, and there are truly spectacular recipes and dishes floating across that on a daily basis, including the incredible pizza bean dish.
Seriously, go check it out, and tell ‘em I sent y’all.