Soupe de la Semaine: Bean and Ham Hock Soup

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♪♫ Do you or I or anybody know / Where the peas, beans, oats, and the barley grow? ♫♪

I used to sing this song as a kid, believing it to be a post-agrarian commentary on the disconnect between the urban bourgeoisie and proletariat farmers, the latter of whom were mocked by the former for their lack of culture and inexplicable fetishism of an idealized past. [The city-dwellers were, in turn, mocked by rurals for having no clue where to procure said foodstuffs outside of Selfridges, Harrods, or Fortnum & Mason. Or later, Tesco.]

How wrong I was!

It turns out to be a bit of that, of course, but it seems also to have been intended as a subtle indoctrination into the social bondage of cisgen heteronormative relationships designed to propagate the patriarchy while giving a transparently dismissive nod to egalitarian alliances based upon actual economic, sexual, intellectual, and political agency for both partners (or more, if a poly or communal unit were established).

Whew. That’s a lot of philosophical weight for a poor little legume to withstand. Let’s retreat from the library into the kitchen, thence to make soup.

This particular little bowl full of goodness lives right across the hall from its more famous neighbour,

…with serving suggestions!

There’s even a similar version that appears to be the only constant on the menu for the US Senate, dating back to the early 20th century.

Long story short, wherever tasty salty pig parts find themselves near a kettle and some legumes and veggies, sooner or later some form of this will emerge. It’s super simple to make, nearly impossible to bollix up, and tastes even better then next day.

The reason I made this mostly on the stovetop is that I intended to cook up a double batch, which exceeded my Instant Pot’s capacity. Also, I find the aroma of a soup bubbling lazily away on a winter afternoon to be one of life’s simple pleasures.

Best broth you can buy.

A couple of quick notes: You are welcome to use water as the main liquid for this soup, and it will turn out just fine. I used Aneto stock, about which I have ranted before. Expensive. Worth it. You are welcome to use any beans as the main legume for this soup, and they will be fine. I used Rancho Gordo Heirloom Beans (Snowcap and Cranberry, specifically), about which I have ranted before. Expensive. Worth it. Seriously, at an extra $4 per pound for the beans and an extra $4 per liter for the stock, I spent an extra $16 on the soup. That’s like four lattes at Charbucks. I don’t mean to sound cavalier here; $16 is serious folding dough. But the payoff is seriously huge. And while I pressure-cooked the unsoaked dry beans in an Instant Pot (which is frequently on sale, so look around before you buy), this totally works with pre-soaked beans and/or over the stove, the old fashioned way.

Two great beans that taste great together.

INGREDIENTS
30 ml / 2 tbsp olive oil
2-3 bay leaves
1-2g / 1-2 tsp dried thyme
pinch white pepper
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
2.5 – 3 lbs. / 1 – 1.5 kg smoked ham hocks
1 lb. / .5 kg diced ham (optional)
2 medium-large onions, finely chopped
4-6 large stalks celery, finely minced
2-3 large carrots, chopped or sliced into coins
2 liter / 8 cups good quality chicken and/or vegetable stock (I used some of each)
500ml / 2 cups water
2 lbs. / 1 kg dried beans (or eight 15 oz. cans cooked beans, drained and rinsed)
5-10g / 1-2 tsp salt
lemon zest (optional)

DIRECTIONS
Rinse beans thoroughly, then drain (whether you’re using canned or dried beans). [This is where you would add the dried beans and stock to the Instant Pot, if you are going that route. Add the kilo / 2 lbs. of dried beans and about 2.5 liters / 10 cups liquid (I used the stock and water). Cook according to instructions. For more recommendations on cooking times, check here and here.]

Dice onion; mince garlic and celery. Cut carrots into coin-size slices (if the “coins” get to be larger than a quarter or a 2€ coin, cut them in half.) Dice the additional ham, if using, and set aside.

Sweat the veg.

In a large pan, heat the oil, thyme, bay leaves, and white pepper, and then sauté the onion, celery, carrots, and garlic for about 5 minutes, until soft without colouring. Add the water, stock, beans, ham hocks, and diced ham (if using). Bring to a low boil and then reduce heat. Simmer for about an hour, or until meat begins to fall off hocks. Remove hocks, strip and dice or shred meat, and discard bones. Check and adjust the seasoning (be careful with the salt, as the ham will provide more than you imagine, as will store-bought stock, if it’s not Aneto). Remove bay leaves. Serve hot with crusty bread or rolls.

Sticks to your ribs on a winter’s night.

At $9 A Liter, Aneto Chicken Broth Is A Steal.

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Worth its weight in chicken.

I know, I know. For that amount of money you could buy THREE liters of chicken broth. You’d probably be better off mixing this with two liters of water, actually, if price is your sole criterion.

Full disclosure: Due to an upcoming medical procedure during which they insert a video camera up into the shadiest area of my body (i.e., “where the sun don’t shine”), I am currently on a liquid diet. Chicken broth is permitted. I decided to use this opportunity to test drive a suggestion I came across while writing the article on fideuà inauténtico. My research for that piece led me to an excellent food blog called The Daring Gourmet, which features not only recipes, but also product reviews, travel and health tips, restaurant reviews, and more. [You should visit it after you’re done reading this.]

They wrote an article about their visit to the Aneto factory in Artes, Spain, that I found completely captivating. Enough so that I was willing to plunk down $27 to pick up three liters of the broth as part of my hydration regime, knowing I would be renting it for not much longer than it will take you to finish watching the final episode of The Americans this evening.

I had considered myself a fairly savvy shopper, and the chicken broth in the pantry was Kroeger’s Simple Truth Organic Free Range Chicken Broth Fat Free, which I bought at the local Ralphs for about $1.99 or so. But compare the ingredient list between Aneto (at left) and Kroeger (at right).

The boxes are the same size, but that’s where the similarities end.

As Kimberly of The Daring Gourmet pointed out in her article,

    To be called “broth” the USDA only requires a Moisture-Protein Ratio (MPR) of 1:135. That’s 1 part chicken to 135 parts water. That translates as 1 ounce of chicken per gallon of water. As unbelievable as that sounds, we’re understandably left asking, “So where’s the chicken in the chicken broth?”

Indeed.

On the left, the Aneto broth. On the right, the Kroeger. Which one do you suppose has more chicken (and, for that matter, flavour)?

I don’t want to come across as picking on Kroeger; it’s one of the best of the conventional chicken broths. The problem is that we in the United States just don’t set the bar very high (another issue addressed at The Daring Gourmet). And most of us aren’t drinking our chicken broth straight. But I gotta say, from the bottom of my taste buds, that Aneto is to conventional chicken broth what a Maybach or a McLaren is to a Vauxhall Viva.

Of course, you could make your own stock. That gives you the option to tweak the taste, and it’s possible to make a stock that’s even better than what Aneto sells. But it takes time to buy and prepare the ingredients, and if you want to get some economy of scale, it also requires a significant amount of freezer space, so those costs deserve to be considered. I come from a family where it was considered to be something of a crime to let potential soup bones go to waste, so I do make my own stock from time to time, but it’s usually with veggies that are a mere few days away from becoming a science project, plus a fresh onion (I always have those). I rarely — read “never” — set out to make a big batch of stock from scratch with purpose-bought vegetables. Plus, Aneto makes really good stock, and it’s always handy to have some room-temp broth in the pantry even if your freezer is (ahem) well-stocked.

Appended to their 2016 article, The Daring Gourmet thoughtfully provided a list of stores across the USA where Aneto is sold (the company also make a ton of broths that are not sold in the US, such as their Caldo Natural de Jamón). I got mine at the local Sur La Table; I could have saved a couple bucks a unit had I bought a six-pack through Amazon, but I failed to plan ahead that far. Idiot me. Over the next few hours, I’m sure I will have ample time to sit and contemplate the error of my ways.

Meanwhile, go read the Aneto story!