One of the many things I love about Chicago are the butcher shops. Being a realtor is great for roaming around to different neighborhood butchers and figuring which ones have your favorite bacon, lamb, steaks, and prices. I always pick up a smoked pork hock (or two) for soups and stews, especially when winter sets in. My go-to soup when it’s cold and rainy (like today) is a bean and pork one. It’s hearty and perfect for a cold damp day (we never have those in Chicago). I’ll make a couple different variations of this throughout the winter using different beans, different vegetables, pasta, etc. It’s a very versatile recipe. For example, throw some stale bread and kale in and turn it into a ribolitta. Although it takes a while (all the simmering) it’s actually pretty simple to make. Once you get the hang of the basics, making the base stock with the hock, you can add anything. This is my first actual homegrown recipe so I hope it works. Let me know how it turns out!
- 1-2lbs of smoked pork hock (either two small ones or one big one)
- ½ lb dried beans (1 C, or ½ a bag)(I prefer black or great northern)
- 3 medium sized carrots sliced in rounds
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 2 ribs of celery chopped
- 2 Tbs butter
- 1 can of whole tomatoes drained and cut in half (the big 28 oz. one)
- ½ tsp Spanish paprika
- ½ tsp Cumin
- Bay leaf
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Shot of dry vermouth
First step is to soak the beans. For a ½ lb rinse the beans and put into a pot with 4 C of water. You can do it overnight for the long soak or if you’re like me and always to forget to do this you can do a quick soak which works really well. Quick soak method: Same amount of beans and water, put on stove and bring to boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Turn off heat, cover and let soak for 1 hour. Drain. SAVE the soaking liquid. It’s got bean flavor and you can add some back to the soup later. Set the drained beans aside for now. *Note on the beans. I like to quick soak the whole bag and use about 3 C in the soup. You can save the rest of the pre-soaked beans for a quick cook as a dinner side (Cuban style perhaps) later in the week
While your beans are soaking take your hock(s) and put them in a big pot with water that covers it by an inch. Over high heat bring to a boil, then reduce and let simmer for AT LEAST an hour. You’re probably better off going with an hour and a half to two hours, especially for bigger, meatier ones. Don’t worry this won’t hurt the pork. After you make this a few times you’ll know how long you have to let it simmer. And trust me the longer you let the bigger ones simmer the easier it is to pull the meat apart (more flavor in your broth too).
Once your hock has simmered to your liking, take it out and let it cool enough so you can handle it comfortably. Strain the broth through some cheesecloth or kitchen towel and save. I like to use a kitchen/tea towel to filter. It degreases the stock really well. Let it cool enough so any remaining fat forms a layer on the top you can easily skim off. You should have between 6-8 C of liquid. If not don’t worry, that’s why we saved the bean liquid. Put skimmed/degreased liquid back in the pot.
Take your cooled hock, make a lengthwise slit in it and trim off the skin and fat layer. It should peel off fairly easily with a little help from a paring knife. If you let it simmer more than an hour the remaining meat should easily pull off the bone. Your meat should now be in a few big chunks you can pull apart and remove any fatty membranes from it. (You should have let it simmer longer right? Yeah I always do that too). Slice up separated meat and put back into pot with liquid.
In a separate heated pan melt the 2 Tbs of butter. Take your carrots, onion, and celery, cumin, and paprika and sauté for about 5 mins. Add to the pot.
Add the drained beans you set aside to the pot (or as many as you like if you prepped the whole bag, half, ¾, the whole lot of them if you want, just remember to add a little more liquid as the beans will soak it up while cooking).
Add a 1-2 C of the bean soaking liquid you saved (or more if you didn’t have 6-8 C of the pork liquid). Add the tomatoes. Turn the heat on and bring to boil.
Season with some salt and pepper to taste (careful, it’ll reduce a little concentrating the saltiness).
Reduce heat and simmer about 40-45 mins. until beans reach the tenderness you like. Be very diligent here! I have found that different beans cook faster/slower than others. For some reason the black beans I get at the store cook way quicker than white ones. Anyway, keep your eye on it so your beans don’t overcook and get mushy.
Adjust seasonings, stir in the shot of vermouth to add some body, ladle into bowls, throw on some chopped parsley, and enjoy!