Hold the hock

When last we chatted, I promised that my next visit to these pages would be with something lighter and not so serious. I think I’m fulfilling that in this post.

After all, how serious can I be talking about the subtleties of cooking beans?!?!?

Yes, beans – that versatile ingredient that can be slowly baked in a sticky sweet sauce or wrapped in a burrito or served cold with pasta in a salad.

Growing up, the noble legume was a feature in the McCullough kitchen. The bean of choice was usually the black-eye pea. The cooking method – as I recall – was pretty basic. Big pot, big seasoning and a big ham hock tossed in for added flavor.

When I left the nest, I branched out to explore other bean varietals (That ain’t the only thing I explored, but that’s a story for another day!), but I never strayed too far from the cooking techniques of my childhood…big pot, big seasoning, big piece of pork.

Until several weeks ago.

While the flavor rendered from the lower leg of a well-smoked pig is second to none, I did notice that a byproduct of that porcine goodness is more than just a little bit of fat.

No, I’m not going all Dr. Oz and embarking on a rant about cutting the fat from mine or anyone else’s diet. Please – live and let live! It’s just that I thought it might be time to think – and cook – out of the box and explore bean preparation techniques that didn’t involve Miss Piggy.

I have friends who swear by smoked turkey wings as a pork alternative. I considered that, but much like a ham hock, beyond throwing them in a pot, there’s not much more you can do with them.

Instead, I went with chicken thighs – more of a multi-tasking component. What didn’t wind up in our bean pot will find its way onto our grill.

The finished product was good, but even with some of the skin removed, the chicken thighs still yielded a significant amount of fat.

Regrettably, at the risk of upsetting my parent’s eternal rest, I then made the bold decision to go meatless.

Channeling my inner Jacques Pépin, I donned a jaunty beret (Raspberry, of course – the kind you find at a second hand store) and concocted a crazy mirepoix of every aromatic, root vegetable and herb in my kitchen arsenal and tossed it, a decent handful of dry seasonings and a pound of red beans into my crock pot, covered this melange with the Atlanta Watershed’s best municipal H2O….flicked the switch, prayed and walked away.

Several hours later what I came back to wasn’t too bad! To replace the viscosity of the missing fat, I broke out my potato masher and crushed some of the beans to make the dish a bit thicker.

With all the finely chopped vegetables in the mix, it looked more like a stew – albeit a meatless one – but, hey, looks aren’t everything! It tasted pretty darn good!

Fear not, I won’t become that guy! I’m far from being Vinnie Vegan! You won’t see me this weekend with tofu ribs on the grill. I love meat, but I’m glad to have given meatless beans a try.




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