"If you've only had sweet Boston Baked Beans, then you don't know beans." Meathead
During hard times, beans have kept many Texans alive. For more than a few, the bean pot contained simply beans, salt, pepper, and maybe a little pork fat or bacon. You can go crazy with additions, but this is the classic, simple, home style recipe. When you visit classic Texas pitstops, beans are almost always on the menu, and outsiders, particularly Yankees, are often surprised to discover that "Texas Caviar" is simple and not sweet.
There are a million ways to vary this recipe and every Texan has her own twist. Some start with the stripped down recipe below and add potato chunks, bell peppers, anchos, hot sauce, ham hocks, leftover meats, or herbs. Sweeteners, such as molasses, common in Yankee bean dishes such as Boston Baked Beans, rarely appear in Texas beans.
Some cooks play with garnishes at the table, but I keep it simple, just a little jalapeño, if I garnish at all. Sometimes I go crazy and add chopped tomato and raw onion. For a luxe treatment when company's coming, I put a pat of butter or dollop of sour cream on top of each serving.
Below is my version of Texas beans, the kind you might find Grannie dishing out in a farmhouse or at her barbecue joint. You can use just about any bean, but butter beans, pintos, or black-eyed beans (a.k.a. black-eyed peas) are the most common in Texas.
This is a common everyday dish, but in Texas it is traditional to serve black-eyes on New Year's Day to bring good luck for the coming year.
Makes. 8 servings as a side dish
Takes. 6 to 12 hours soaking if using dried beans, plus about 3 hours cooking time. Exact cooking time will vary for dried beans depending on how dry they were and how long they soaked.
2 strips bacon, chopped
2 cans (15 ounce each) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 (14 ounce) cans reduced sodium chicken broth
1 (14 ounce) can whole, diced, or crushed tomatoes
2 fresh jalapeño peppers, finely chopped
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1) Click here to read my article, The Science of Beans, for tips on working with beans and equivalents for dry, canned, and cooked beans. Decide which you will use. If you plan to use dried beans, follow the instructions there for preparing them. If you plan to use canned beans, move on to the next step.
2) Heat a Dutch oven or a heavy pot with a medium heat and add the bacon. Cook until it starts to brown and the fat starts to melt. Add the onion and cook until limp.
3) Add the pressed garlic, cumin, bay leaves, and black pepper and cook about 2 minutes.
4) Add the chicken broth, tomatoes, and the beans. Bring to a boil for about a minute and back the heat down to a simmer. Scrape any bits off the bottom. Stir gently. Simmer about 3 hours with the lid on, stirring every 15 to 30 minutes to make sure things don't stick to the bottom.
5) Some folks serve their beans after most of the liquid has been absorbed, others like it more like a thick soup, and some folks like it thinner. You can add water to thin it or smash a few beans if you want to thicken it. Or you can take the lid off and simmer them lid off for about 30 minutes. Your call. Add cumin, salt, and pepper if you think it needs it. Just before serving remove the bay leaves and add the chopped jalapeño. The reason we wait til the end to add the chile is so its flavor and heat will remain intact and add crunchy little bursts when you eat.
If you have leftovers, smush them up completely. Throw some bacon grease or other fat into a frying pan, cast iron preferably, and when it's hot, add the beans and stir frequently until they are the thickness you prefer. Them's refried beans, partner (in Spanish the prefix "re-" means "well", so "frijoles refritos" means "beans well fried", not "beans fried again").