Monday, February 10, 2014

CbsoP 15 Bean Soup and Ham Hocks with Treasured Alabama Recipes' Favorite Egg Bread

My father used to make soup with ham hocks when I was a kid, but I was always content to remain ignorant of what exactly these gnarly-looking swine pieces actually were. It turns out they're basically ankles; mostly skin, bone, cartilage, and a few tendrils of meat.

You're likely to encounter then, if at all, salted and smoked, so the one key thing to remember about cooking with them is too hold off on seasoning anything they're a part of until you can gauge how much saltiness they're likely to impart to the final product.

There are dozens, if not hundreds of multi-bean and ham soup recipes out there, including the ones on the back of pretty much every plastic bag of bean soup mix you can find. I decided to go with Jerry Russell's "15 Bean Soup with Smoked Ham Hocks" recipe from his site Cooking, by the seat of my Pants. It starts with sweating onions and garlic in some oil, adding the hocks after a decent interval.

The beans, water, and chicken stock then get added. The CbsoP recipe calls for simmering from 1.5 to 2 hours, but I found this to be far too little time - my larger beans were still tooth-crackingly hard. My Dutch oven ended up on the stove for more like 3 hours. This was actually an advantage, as the more time the ham hocks have to soften the more flavor they'll give up.

When the beans themselves are ready, get ready to scoop out the ham hocks and dig through the now-gelatinous masses for whatever bits of actual pork you can, slicing it off and adding to back to the soup. As with many bean soup recipes, CbsoP also calls for adding a large can of diced tomatoes, including the juice. After another 15-20 minutes of simmering, you're ready to serve.

The soup is a perfectly cromulent meal all to itself, but I decided, in honor of my father's historic preference, to supplement it with some corn bread. I skipped his personal favorite, the box of Jiffy corn muffin mix, and instead prepared the misleadingly-named "Favorite Egg Bread" from page 55 of Treasured Alabama Recipes. This is actually just cornbread made with buttermilk and shortening (and eggs) in a cast iron skillet, though I don't doubt it is a favorite of many who have eaten it.

Having cut myself a first slice out of the skillet, I realized it reminded me of a certain ravenous video game character, so I decided to add a strategically-placed bit of blackberry jam to create the illusion of an eye. Pac-Man Corn Bread, everyone.

This is one of those types of dishes that's inevitably described as being better the next day/week/geological era, so I had no qualms about consuming the final bowl several days after the initial preparation. Good to the last legume.