Beans and Cornbread

By • February 2, 2015 3 Comments

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Author Notes: This is about as basic as it gets in a Southern household, but simple is good. You don't have to tend the beans much and the cornbread comes together quickly. And since no one outside the South seems to understand how to make cornbread, it's worth adding.pjcamp

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Serves 4-ish or lots more as a side dish

Beans

  • 1 pound Dried pinto beans
  • 8 cups water to soak
  • 6 cups water to cook
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 4-8 ounces salt pork or bacon or chorizo or smoked sausage or combination
  • 1-4 finely diced serrano peppers depending how hot you like
  • more additional salt and pepper to taste toward end of cooking
  • 1-2 onions diced bean size. Yellow or white, doesn't matter.
  • a good half dozen garlic cloves, minced. More if they're puny.
  1. Sorry, don't really have pictures of food. If I get a chance, I'll take one this week. The idea of brining beans comes from Cook's Illustrated and is a good one. Put the beans in the water, add the first measure of salt and let sit at least 8 hours and up to 24. Drain them in a colander. The rest of this recipe works best in a cast iron Dutch oven but you can use pretty much anything large enough and it will be fine. You do need a lid for it.
  2. In a bit of oil, brown your favorite meat. I prefer salt pork but the others are good too. Use as much as you like but saltier or more strongly flavored meats err toward the low end of the range your first time.
  3. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and in the fat cook the onions and peppers until translucent. Then add the garlic for about 30 seconds.
  4. Return the meat, add the beans, cover the beans with water. About 6 cups should do but use your judgment or you can use half water and half chicken broth. You can always add more if it gets too low. Don't let the beans be uncovered or they'll explode.
  5. Slap on a lid and reduce heat to a simmer. Now you're gonna pilot by eye. The beans are done when they look like beans and that varies considerably depending on the time of year, your altitude and the hardness of your water. Count on at least one hour, maybe more than two. They are done when (a) you taste one and it offers no resistance to your bite; and (b) they have exuded much of their protein into the surrounding liquid so that it is basically the same color as the beans, has the viscosity of gravy, and has acquired a rich, creamy taste. Somewhere along in here you can grind in black pepper and add salt until it tastes ok.
  6. You can mess with this recipe a lot. Bell peppers are good. So are diced tomatoes. But always remember two things. (1) Paul's Iron Law of Garlic: if it said two cloves, it probably meant three (I already corrected upward here). And (2), the old Southern truism: beans are always better on the second day. So make enough for leftovers. You can add a teaspoon of oregano or summer savory with the garlic if you want. You can substitute some of the water for an equal quantity of beer (that seems to make mine take longer to cook). I like Guinness but your mileage may vary. Negra Modelo is good too. You could add some cumin if you had to but I wouldn't. Then you're half way to chili and you might as well go the rest of the way. This is beans, not chili. If you take it to all the way to chili, some Texas dimwit is bound to show up and yell at you about beans. This recipe works beautifully in a slow cooker. After all, a slow cooker is just a bean crock on a hot plate.

Cornbread

  • 2 cups YELLOW corn meal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk, maybe more
  • good sized glug peanut or vegetable oil. I'm guessing somewhere just over 1/4 cup
  • 1 10 inch well seasoned cast iron skillet NO EXCEPTIONS
  1. Yes, no sugar. Sugar is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. Corn is plenty sweet, why you want to go add sugar to it? Trust me on this. This is CORN bread people! You don't need sugar. You sure don't need any flour. Then what you'd have is a giant corn flavored biscuit and that's nasty. Yellow corn meal is sweeter and cornier than white, that's why.
  2. Before you do anything else, put the oil in the skillet and the skillet in the oven and preheat to 400. You want your skillet blazing hot. The old country way would be lard rather than oil but I won't force you to do that. DO NOT use olive oil, it will set fire to your oven and, as we say around here, burn slap up.
  3. Mix the first four (dry) ingredients in a medium size bowl with a whisk. Beat the tar out of the egg and add it to the buttermilk.
  4. When your skillet is hot, add the buttermilk/egg mixture to the corn meal and stir until combined.
  5. From here on out, you're flying by eye again. How much liquid you add depends on the humidity but 1 3/4 cups is a bare minimum. You have to judge if it looks like cornbread. In the mixing bowl, it looks like cornbread if it looks like quicksand. Basically, you want something that will be pretty much self leveling when you put it in the skillet. Use your judgment and don't stress if it isn't exactly right. Cornbread forgives everything except sugar.
  6. Add the batter to the skillet and admire the sizzle. This is why cast iron. You're frying the bottom! Put it back in the oven and cook until it looks like cornbread. This will take 25 minutes or more. It looks like cornbread when (a) it is no longer damp in the middle, and (b) it has pulled away from the sides of the skillet.
  7. Invert your skillet onto a serving platter. Cornbread should fall right out if your skillet is well seasoned and the cornbread is done. Slice it into 8 wedges. Now your crunchy crust is on the top!
  8. Crumble a wedge into a bowl, spoon beans on the top, and put it in your mouth. You can also slice a wedge down the middle and have it with butter. Ok, you can garnish with chopped onions, sour cream, or grated cheddar if you must.
  9. My grandmother never used an egg but mine won't hang together without one. On the other hand, she always mixed a tablespoon of hot oil into the batter before putting it in the skillet. I can't tell that does anything but you can try and see if you like it. For a little extra crunch in the crust, you can sprinkle some loose cornmeal into the hot skillet just before dumping the batter in. Sometimes I do that, sometimes not. Lots of people mix in corn kernels or creamed corn. To me that just gets in the way of the bread and screws up my liquid measurements. My dad always liked it crumbled in a glass with buttermilk poured over, and he'd eat it with a spoon.
  10. Make two of these and you have arrived at the starting point for cornbread dressing, which is the only thing that makes Christmas worth fooling with any more. But that's another story.

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Beans & Legumes|Entrees|Side Dishes|Cornbread