What’s for dinner: Slow Cooker Ham and Bean Soup

HamIt’s triggering a Pavlovian salivary response just looking at it!

I made a kick-ass ham for Christmas Eve dinner. One of those beautiful, glaze-y hunks of pork — see above! — that made the whole house smell delicious for hours, and supplied Casa Flor with days of leftovers* even after eight people stuffed themselves and left with to-go plates.

* (By New Year’s Eve, I admit, I was getting sick of sneaking pieces of ham, and tossed a few last pieces in the trash. Which was silly in retrospect, given this project. … )

“You should save this and make soup with it,” said Smarmy Bastard, whom I had enlisted to slice everything up, regarding the lonely hock on the cutting board. “I should indeed,” I thought, so after it had cooled, I tossed it in a Ziploc bag in the freezer, and promptly forgot about it.

Well, for  a week. Not like forever. But earlier this week when I decided to test out the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup, I thought that since I was already going to the supermarket, I might as well pick up extra ingredients and make ham and bean soup at the same time.

Slow-cooked beans and me, we go way back. And on one of my semiannual trips to Whole Foods — “I’m buying bulk grains, and patchouli oil, and Dr. Bronner’s soap!**” — I had picked up a hefty amount of white beans, so I just needed a few things from the produce aisle to get started.

** No lie. I bought all of those things.

I’m a little fixated on Cook’s Illustrated right now, and I remembered a bit about how you could increase the strength of herbs in dishes by “blooming” them (simmering in oil) before adding other ingredients to the dish. They tested red pepper flakes in oil vs. water, and the oil held twice as much capsaicin; when they tried it with thyme, the oil held 10 times as much flavor.

ThymeBefore ThymeAfter ThymeInOil

And who just happened to need thyme for his ham and bean soup? Me! So rather than just include sprigs of thyme in the pot, I pulled off the leaves — it’s easier when you pull your fingers down the stem (again the leaf pattern) instead of up! — and simmered them in olive oil until they darkened and the oil was super-flavorful.

HamandBeanSoupinSlowCooker Soup’s on! (Or at least in the pot, anyway, ready to cook.) White beans, reduced-sodium chicken stock, lots of celery, carrots and onions, some garlic, the ham hock, and thyme.

Just to get an idea of cooking time, I Googled “ham and bean soup slow cooker,” and came across this recipe from Rachael Ray. I know, some people hate her, but I figured the recipe looked pretty basic and she couldn’t mess up soup. ..

Or could she? Because that five-hour cook time is a dirty lie. I snapped my photo of everything in the slow cooker at 4 p.m., so it should have been wrapped up around 9-ish. But it wasn’t even close — the beans were still far from tender. By 10 p.m. I was beginning to simmer myself, and by 11 p.m. my simmer had moved to a full-on boil. I couldn’t let everything cook for eight more hours while I slept, and I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be safe to let it sit on “warm” for the same amount of time, either. (Pork, you know.)

So I propped myself up in bed and played Bejeweled Blitz and Angry Birds until 12:30 a.m., when I stalked back out to the kitchen to find things … delicious, finally. Rather than do the standard “let things cool before you put them in your refrigerator, lest you tax its system!” I could not ladle those Ziploc bags fast enough. Three went straight in the freezer, and a giant bowl went in the refrigerator for later consumption.

EIGHT HOURS IS NOT FIVE HOURS, RACHAEL RAY. I don’t know if she somehow forgot to mention that she soaked her beans overnight, because there’s no way that five hours on low would fully cook dried beans. To make sure I wasn’t crazy, I referred to the recipe for my favorite slow-cooker dish, Tex-Mex Chicken and Beans, and it directs you to cook things … eight hours.

So: The end product is eventually quite tasty, but you’ll need to book a full workday’s worth of time in the slow cooker before you can enjoy it. None of this five-hour nonsense.

WHAT SAM WORE: 01-04-13
shirt1230 pants082012 shoes1110
The shirt: Corduroy shirt by Martin Gordon, from Last Chance.
The pants: Slim-cut dark wash jeans, from Uniqlo in New York.
The shoes: Custom laceless All-Star sneakers from converse.com, a gift from Funny Michael. (They say “Sammit” on the back!)

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