Charro Beans, Here We Come.

Yet another entry in the ever expanding string of dishes I seem to mention frequently, but have yet to actually post a recipe for. This one comes from Doug in Iowa, (Des Moines, in fact). He writes, ‘I’ve enjoyed your bean recipes lately, but when I went looking for charro beans, I couldn’t find anything. Were they maybe named something else?’ No, Doug, they weren’t. And for something I oft tote as a necessary part of a homemade Mexican meal, you’d think they’d be here alright. Anyway, time to fix that one, so charro beans, here we come.

Now, for the record, a Charro is a Mexican cowboy – those guys dressed in gorgeous outfits who participate in the coleadero y charreada, a rodeo that developed from informal inter-ranch skills competitions. While more than one Mexican state claims the origin, it seems likely that Jalisco takes the prize – Charros, (and Charras), originated in the Salamanca province of Spain, and then settled there, back in the colonial days.

That bean dish that shares the moniker also came from the ranch lands. Like chili, charro beans are a stew, meant to be a hearty meal to fuel a cowboy or cowgirl for many hours of hard work. The most traditional bean used is a pinto, which is generally combined with pork, chiles, tomato, onion, and garlic. Charros are delicious, and so they naturally spread with the folks who love it, perhaps most notably to northern Mexico and Texas, and into Tex-Mex cuisine. Nowadays, versions can be found damn near anywhere there’s a decent Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant.

Now, that said, charro beans were and are also meant to use up what you have that needs to be used, and/or, what you really love to combine – There are no hard and fast rules, despite what you may read elsewhere. Like all great signature dishes, there’s a ton of cooks who make them their own way, just as you should, so let’s break things down by primary elements.

Charros are best made with high quality, dry beans

First, the beans – You can and should use whatever you have and love, though they should be a variety that holds up well to low and slow cooking, (which is a lot of ‘em, thankfully.) I’ve made charros with white, black, brown, and red bean varieties, and they were all delicious. I strongly recommend making them with high quality, dry beans like Rancho Gordo, but if you’re in the mood and have a need for speed, they’ll make a can of beans far more than presentable pretty quickly.

If you’re not a meat eater, charros are a great dish, because you sure don’t need any for this to be a hearty and delicious meal. For those that do, it’s usually pork, and I’ve seen everything from bacon to pork shoulder, smoked ham hock, chorizo, and even hot dogs – Remember, it’s what you’ve got that needs using and what you love, and nada else.

Chiles are a must in charro beans

Peppers of some kind are a must, but whether or not they’re hot is up to you. Sweet peppers are fine if that’s your jam, as are nuclear chiles. Most folks probably lean toward jalapeños as the standard, and for good reason – Field stripped, they’re relatively mild and tasty as all get out. Tossed into the mix whole, they have reasonable heat. Go with what you love.

Plum tomatoes are the go to for charro beans

Tomatoes are a must, and plum varieties like a Roma are most common. You can use canned if that’s what you’ve got, but if fresh ‘maters are in season, that’s where you aughta be.

Onions are also a must, and they need to be notable in the mix. That said, the variety is up to you. When fresh sweets like a Walla Walla are in season, that’s where I go. In general, you want fresh stuff – a really strong old onion can poison this dish pretty quickly.

Garlic is a must. Not so much that the dish screams its presence, but enough to give it that low, sweet funky note.

A little salt and fresh ground pepper, and fresh cilantro is the baseline seasoning for charros. There’s lots more you can use if you like – Mexican oregano, lemon thyme, and citrus juice and zest have been long time faves of mine, for good reason.

Now, as for beer, the answer is no, it’s not necessary. That’s a Tex-Mex specific trick that I personally don’t do. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t, though – We put beer in chili or stew, and it’ll go just fine in charros. Personally, I go with the liquid the beans cooked in, bean stock, because, well, it’s a bean stew, right? Anything else is up to you – put whatever you like in there that makes it your signature version – To each their own.

As for cooking process, it’s best to go the traditional low and slow method. If you’re in a hurry and you have the goods, very decent charros can be whipped up in the time it takes to get other things ready for tacos, for instance. If what you have is canned beans, adding the required adjuncts, quickly diced, with enough chicken or veggie stock to get the right, soupy consistency, coupled with a 30 minute simmer, will be more than OK.

If you’re using dry beans, they need to be par cooked before you begin the charro cook. This is the stage I cook all my beans to – al dente, so that I can do stuff like charros, barbecue, or baked dishes without the beans turning to mush – That’s how I freeze them for pretty quick future use, too.

A lot of charro recipes tell you to simmer the beans in water, fry and sauté most of the other ingredients, and then assemble, heat through for a bit, and serve. For my taste, you get a far better dish with deeper flavors, if you simmer everything together for at least 30 minutes, and longer if you wish. Finally, you’ll see that I roast most of the constituents in my charros – This creates a notably richer dish.

 

Charro Beans de UrbanMonique

1 Pound par cooked, dry Pinto Beans (or any reasonable substitution)

Bean Stock to cover

Chicken or Veggie Stock to top off

6 strips smoky, Pepper Bacon

2 medium Sweet Onions

4 fresh Roma Tomatoes

2 fat cloves Garlic

2-4 Chiles (We like jalapeño or serrano)

1 small Lemon

6-8 stalks fresh Cilantro

1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

Salt and freshly ground Pepper to taste

NOTES:

1. High quality beans like Rancho Gordo really and truly do not require anything added when initially boiled. You certainly can put stuff in there if you like – I often just toss in a couple bay leaves, and that’s plenty. If you want a more definitive base, a thick slice of onion cut in half, a few 1/2” rounds of carrot and celery, and those bay leaves, will do nicely.

2. You do not need to soak high quality beans before boiling them – You really don’t.

3. You will want a ready supply of boiling water to add to the beans as they cook, so either a tea pot, hot pot, or spare pan should be set up with at least a quart of water therein.

4. You can prep everything but beans as they are boiling if you like, or wait until they’re cooked to al dente – Your choice, and it won’t hurt a thing either way.

Pour beans into a colander and rinse thoroughly, inspecting for rocks and other detritus.

Transfer beans to a heavy sauce pan over high heat and add enough water to cover by at least 2” – and 3” is better.

When the beans begin to boil, set a timer for 10 minutes.

When your 10 minutes are up, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Hang out long enough to see where things settle, and adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer.

Keep an eye on things as the beans cook, topping off the water to maintain at least 2” over the beans – This will change as they absorb water, so don’t leave them for long.

At 30 minutes into the simmer, give the beans a good stir and check one or two for doneness – They will not be close in all likelihood, but you’d much rather catch things on the upslope then down, eh?

When your beans are al dente – Still not soft enough to be ready to eat, but not far off, remove the pan from heat while you prep everything else.

Peal and trim onion and garlic, stem chiles, (and field strip the chiles, if you’re cutting the heat factor down – aka remove the white membrane – That’s where the heat lives).

Cut onion, tomatoes, and chiles in half.

Cut lemon in half, return half to fridge. Zest the working half.

Arrange onion, chiles, tomatoes, garlic, lemon, and bacon on a baking sheet, on an upper middle oven rack.

Set oven on broil and roast until bacon looks done and the veggies begin to blister and blacken.

Turn the veggies and the bacon once and continue roasting for another 3-5 minutes, until the bacon looks done on the turned side.

Remove from oven and allow everything to cool enough to handle.

Dice all the roasted veggies, and mince the garlic.

Rough chop cilantro.

Turn the heat under the beans back up to medium high.

Add roasted veggies and stir to incorporate.

Add chicken or veggies stock to cover beans by at least 2”.

Allow the beans to come back to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to maintain a bare simmer.

Add oregano, and stir to incorporate.

Simmer until the beans attain a thick soup consistency, around 30 minutes, and longer if you wish.

just prior to service, add the cilantro and the lemon zest, and squeeze in the juice from the roasted lemon half – stir to incorporate.

Charro beans in all their glory

Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.

Buen provecho!

The Magic of Pot Beans

‘Wait,’ you think, ‘is he writing about beans again? This cat has a serious case of OCD.’ For the record, I do not – I have CDO, as I prefer my maladies in alphabetical order – and yes, I am writing about beans again. Why? Because alert follower Mia, who hails from Charlotte, North Carolina wrote, ‘Love the blog, and especially the bean posts, as I’m trying to eat less meat and go easier on the planet a little. But I’m not finding a post that really explains the basic cooking process you use.’ I waded through 10 posts with beans in the title and discovered that she’s absolutely correct. Time to fix that, and delve into the magic of pot beans.

Mia’s also right about the fact that we here in America need to dilute our animal flesh eating habits to some degree. I’ve said it before and will again – great beans are every bit as good as meat, when they’re prepared with love and imagination. Of course doing any of that requires the goods to be available fairly quickly, if we want to compete with a chub of kick ass local ground beef. That’s where Frijoles de la Olla, Mexico’s version of pot beans come in to play.

flageolets might be French, but they’ll swing whatever you want to do

Fact is, great beans aren’t gonna come from a can. The reason canned beans get used far more than dried beans is obvious – The former is ready to eat far faster than the latter – But it needn’t be that way. If you’ve poked around here, you know we advocate cooking major proteins in large batches at the start of the week, so that you can enjoy good meals quickly throughout your busy week. Pot beans are just the ticket for many days worth of delicious stuff.

I chose the Mexican iteration of pot beans because they’re simple, tasty, and can easily be morphed into a myriad of other cuisines at your whim. That said, every bean eating country has a version and they’re all, more or less, designed to do the same thing – provide a big batch of cooked beans to work with for the next few days. In France, they might be flageolates with herbs de Provence. In Italy, it’s a white bean with garlic, olive oil, and maybe a little chile. In Spain, it might be fabada beans with tomato, cumin, and onion. Truth be told, any of those deserve further exploration.

How you cook them really is up to you, (although diehards of the various options will naturally insist that their way is best.) Take all that with a grain of salt and do what you like, but again, save some future time for exploration too. Stove top is relatively quick, does a great job, and is easy to keep an eye on – You can always do low and slow in the oven for other stuff down the line.

Boston baked beans made with flageolets? Yup.

Which beans to use? I say try them all, and don’t be shy. Our last two excursion were Mexican enfrijoladas and a glorious clay pot of Boston baked, both of which were made with French beans – Mogette de Vendée and flageolates, respectively. Both were spectacular, my point being that you needn’t be too tied up with using the ‘proper’ variety – Explore and enjoy, because there are a bunch of heirloom bean varieties out there, and you really, truly owe it to yourself to go find them.

There’s a world of bean varieties to choose from out there

Then there’s the question of what to cook them in. A decent stock or soup pot will work just fine and give excellent results. I will say that it’s probably best to steer clear of pressure cookers and instant pots with beans, unless you really know the cooking characteristics of what you’re working with, and the vagaries of the appliance.

Depending on the bean, the cooking time can vary from an hour and change, to several hours. While the lion’s share of the process is pretty hands off, you do need to keep an eye on things, to make sure you don’t turn a pound of heirloom loveliness to mush, (And if you do, no sweat – that just means that you’ll be making bean dip, purée, or enfrijoladas instead of whatever you had in mind initially – and they’ll be delicious.)

Finally, to soak or not to soak? I very rarely do so, but if that’s what you’ve always done and are comfy with, then do it. Soaking will shorten the cooking time somewhat, and some folks believe it helps beans cook more evenly – In any event, it sure won’t hurt. Plan on soaking for at least an hour and up to 4 – Any more than that is likely too much for good quality, freshly dried beans.

Frijoles de la Olla – Basic Pot Beans

1 Pound of good quality dried Beans

1/2 medium Yellow Onion

2 cloves fresh Garlic

Pinch of Salt

A few twists of ground Pepper

Optional:

A few sprigs fresh Epazote or Cilantro

A couple of Bay Leaves, (I like Turkish)

Stem and peel onion and garlic. Both can just be quartered, (as in, quarter the half, so you’ve got a bunch of 1”+ pieces of onion, and quartered cloves of garlic.)

Spread your beans out on a clean baking sheet and check for rocks and other debris, (I’ve never found anything foreign in Rancho Gordo beans, but even they recommend you do this, so…)

Pour beans into a colander and rinse in cold water.

Add the beans to a cooking vessel big enough to allow for significant expansion as they absorb water – A 3 qt. sauce pan does great for a pound of beans.

Add the onion, garlic, three finger pinch of salt, and a few twists of pepper. If you’re using any or all the optional, they can go in now too, except epazote, which is a finishing herb added at the very end of the process.

Add enough clean, fresh water to cover the beans by about 3 inches.

Turn the burner on high and let ‘er rip.

Keep an eye on things, and when you get a vigorous boil, reduce the heat enough to maintain a boil but not get crazy, and set a timer for 15 minutes.

When your timer goes off, drop the heat to just maintain a bare simmer, and cover the pot.

Continue cooking until you’ve got the doneness you’re after. You will want to keep an eye on water level, and maintain 2” to 3” above the beans – Add hot water from a kettle when you top things off – Again, they’ll usually absorb more water as they cook.

What is done? Personally, I want mine fairly al dente, so that I’ve got room for further cooking in whatever dishes I’m going to make without getting mushy beans – Other folks want theirs soft at this initial cook – You do what you like.

Beans are a potential food safety hazard just like other proteins. They need to cool down from cooking temp to under 41° F in 4 hours or less. Employing an ice bath around your cooking pot is the quickest and easiest way to get there.

Bean broth is great stuff and shouldn’t be wasted. Use it in soups, stews, sauces and whatever bean dishes you’re making.

Beans can be stored in the fridge for 3 to 5 days safely, and can be frozen for up to 4 months with little degradation of flavor.

friEither way, put them in clean, airtight containers with most or all of the broth. We use glass storage containers with snap lids for both jobs – That lets you portion for about what you want for a meal easily, and allows for quick thawing and cooking when you need them. 

Beautiful Barbecue Beans

Wait, more on beans? Yeah, and here’s why. They’re genuinely good for you – They’re a nutrient dense food with antioxidant properties, and eating them regularly can help reduce your risk of a raft of nasty things like cancer, heart troubles, and such – Research it for yourself and see if I’m shooting you straight. 

Better yet, great beans are incredibly tasty and lend themselves to a wide variety of flavors and textures. Last night, when M announced pork ribs for dinner, I whipped up a batch of barbecue beans, (I winged it big time, but they were so dang good I just had to share them here.)

BBQ beans demand a great sauce, and that means made from scratch. The sauce not only provides rich counterpoint to a firm, creamy bean, it also helps make the low and slow cooking process as effective as it is.

First decision is what bean in what form should we use? Dried is my answer, and specifically, Rancho Gordo beans. These are superior beans to dang near anything else you’ve ever tried. If you think you don’t really like beans, try them, and they’ll change your mind – They’re that good. Next question, what variety to use? A lot of folks swear by Great Northern or Navy, and they’re not wrong, but my go to is an RG pinto – These are not the usual nondescript whatever bean most pintos are – These are rich, creamy, firm beans that soak up flavor while maintaining firmness and texture.

You’ll notice a couple other unique ingredients from Rancho Gordo in this recipe. I strongly encourage you to take the plunge and try them, they’re well worth it. They’ll add unique and subtle flavor notes to the finished dish you simply won’t get elsewhere, (but fear not – I’ll offer common subs as well.)

This recipe is scaled for a full pound of beans. While you might not need all that in one sitting, they’ll be fine in the fridge for 3 to 5 days, and if properly packaged, will freeze well for several months, (glass, airtight, minimal air space, will do the deed.) 

I’m calling for a Dutch oven to do the baking in, because a fair amount of y’all have one, (and you don’t, you aughta), but a heavy baking dish will also do fine. If you’re blessed with a clay cooking vessel, then that’s your go to for this dish.

Yes, there’s a lot of stuff in this recipe, but it’s not as complex or time consuming as it might appear, and the rewards are great. While there is always more than one way of building a dish, do try this one as noted. Note that I’m not calling for a pre-cooking soak of the beans – It’s not necessary for a long, low and slow cook like this, and it may well rob them of flavor. You’ll see that I call for salting the water the beans do their initial cooking in – Fact is the ‘never salt beans until they’re done or they’ll be tough,’ mantra is an old wives tale – High quality, fresh beans will come out tasty and tender every time with a little salt in the cooking water.

Granted, this isn’t a super low calorie dish – In fact, with some freshly baked cornbread, a dollop of sour cream and a good IPA, it’s a very hearty meal in and of itself.

Scratch made barbecue beans

Urban’s Barbecue Beans

1 Pound Rancho Gordo Pinto Beans, (and if you’re winging it, good quality Great Northern or Navy beans will do)

2 Cups House Made Chicken Stock, (good store bought will work fine)

8 ounces thick cut Smoked Bacon

1 large yellow Onion, (about a cup and a half or so)

1-2 fresh Chiles, (I like Serrano, but Jalapeños are great too)

1/4 fresh Red Bell Pepper

2 cloves fresh Garlic

1 large fresh Tomato

1 Cup Ketchup

1/2 Cup dark brown Sugar

1/4 Cup Black Strap Molasses

2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar

2 Tablespoons Rancho Gordo stone Ground Chocolate, (other good Mexican disc chocolate is fine)

2 Tablespoons Rancho Gordo Pineapple Vinegar, (Live Cider Vinegar will do as a sub)

2 Tablespoons Yellow Mustard

2 teaspoons fine ground Black Pepper

2 teaspoons ground New Mexican Red Chile powder, (not chili powder, just powdered red chile)

2 teaspoons ground Celery Leaf, (1 teaspoon of seed or celery salt will do fine, if that what you’ve got, for the latter, omit the kosher salt below)

1 teaspoon Hot Sauce, (I prefer Tabasco, but use what you like best)

1 teaspoon fine kosher Salt

Bean Broth

Fresh Water

In a stock pot over high heat, add 6 cups of water, a tablespoon of salt, and whisk to dissolve. Add the beans and adjust water level to maintain at least 2” over the beans, (and more is totally cool).

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a brisk simmer for 15 minutes.

cover the stock pot and turn the heat to the lowest setting you’ve got. 

Adjust water level if needed to maintain at least a couple inches above bean level. 

Cover, and leave beans to cook in the barely bubbling bean broth.

Check your beans every 30 minutes for doneness and water level – You want them not done, but very al dente, aka still kinda hard in the middles – and maintain that 2” of water above them. When you’re there, turn off the heat and slide the pot off the burner – This will typically take anywhere from 60 to 90 of cooking time minutes.

Drain the beans, reserving 2 cups of bean broth.

Now it’s time to assemble your mise en place – Use small bowls or dishes for your prepped ingredients.

Cut bacon into roughly 1/2” strips width-wise across each piece.

Peel and fine dice onion. 

Stem chiles (devein if you don’t want full heat), and fine dice.

Stem, trim, and fine dice red pepper.

Smash garlic with the side of a chef knife, peel, end trim, and then mince.

Cut tomato into roughly 1/4” slices, then dice.

You can combine onion, chiles, and red pepper in one bowl. Keep garlic and tomato separate.

Fine grate 2 tablespoons of chocolate.

In a non-reactive mixing bowl, combine ketchup, diced tomatoes, brown sugar, molasses, agave nectar, chocolate, vinegar, mustard, pepper, chile powder, celery leaf, hot sauce, and salt. Whisk to incorporate and set aside to allow flavors to marry.

Preheat oven to 300° F, and place a rack in a middle slot.

In a Dutch oven over medium high heat, add bacon and cook until the lardons are nice and crisp and most of the fat has rendered out. Carefully transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate or bowl covered with clean paper towel – Let as much fat as possible drip back into the Dutch oven as you do so.

Add onion, chiles and red pepper to the Dutch oven and sauté until the onion begins to brown lightly, about 5 minutes. 

Add garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates, about 1 minute.

Add chicken stock and deglaze any naughty bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add beans, bacon, and the sauce, and stir to incorporate thoroughly.

Add bean broth and stir until you get a consistency like a stew – Notably wetter than you want the finished beans, with about 1/2” of liquid above bean level.

Let the whole mix reach a simmer, stirring occasionally.

When you’ve got a simmer, cover the Dutch oven and slide that bad boy into the oven, (and don’t forget to turn your burner off.)

After 2 hours, uncover and check moisture level and bean doneness. 

If things get too thick, stir in a little more bean broth.

Total bake will typically take 3 – 4 hours – When beans are done to your liking, pull from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes before digging in.