Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Smoky Bean & Ham Hock Soup

Meat, A Kitchen Education is a comprehensive book on everything from pork, beef and veal, to lamb, game, sausages, pâtés, and terrines.  You will learn which cooking techniques are appropriate for any given type of meat.  You will learn the differences between international flavor profiles so you can enable yourself to be creative.  Each chapter is dedicated to a specific category and there is a wealth of information and beautiful photography around every corner.
Ham hocks are smoked pork shanks.  Shanks are the “shin” portion of an animal’s leg and are an extremely tough cut of meat.  In order to enjoy this delicious piece of meat, we need to use a moist cooking method.  This recipe stews the meat for 2 ½ hours until it literally falls off the bone.  Make sure you are buying some good, perhaps some organic, ham hocks for this recipe.  During my shopping I saw some very small and dried out looking ham hocks at one store.  I made a trek to Whole Foods and found some organic shanks for roughly $7 a piece—not exactly the cheap solution for a good meal I was hoping for, but definitely worth it. 
Dried Beans are seldom the dinner solution for the typical American home cook…and that is a shame.  There are innumerable reasons as to why I want you to become a dried bean-loving freak, but I will just let you know my top three. 
1.     They are cheap.  Do the math in price per pound compared to canned.
2.     You control the amount of sodium (salt) that goes into those beans.
3.     FLAVOR, TEXTURE, and the many applications of this versatile food.
All you have to keep in mind when it comes to cooking legumes is that it takes time.  So plan ahead.  Can you remember to soak a portion of beans overnight for use the following day?  Can you boil a pot of water or stock and pour your drained beans into the pot for an hour or two and walk away?  Can you taste and season your own beans to your preference?  If you answered yes to all three, then you are well on your way to dried bean-loving freakdom.
Also keep in mind that different beans generally take longer times than others for cooking time, and some don’t require a presoak.  In all actuality, you don’t have to soak any beans; but it sure does cut down the cooking time dramatically.  If you think you will be cooking dried beans indefinitely, then I suggest you look into a pressure cooker for use over the years.
One more thing to keep in mind, do not skip the step of sorting through your legumes.  I have seen rocks and pebbles mixed in with beans and it doesn’t matter what source you are getting them from because all beans are dried on the ground in various countries…so wash/rinse them too.   

Smoky Bean and Ham Hock Soup 
2 cups dried beans, picked over for grit and stones and rinsed
2 quarts chicken broth or water
Bouquet garni
2 ham hocks, ½ to 1 lb. each
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 jalapeño chiles, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup dry sherry (Don’t use bottles labeled “cooking sherry” go to the wine department for this)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Tabasco sauce for serving
Sour cream for serving

James Peterson
I have to write largely on James Peterson because I think his background is fascinating.  I normally don’t write this much on the bio section, but I think you will enjoy his story just as much as I did. 
James Peterson is not the owner of a three star restaurant in New York.  He is not the host of a cooking show on the Food Network.  He doesn’t even have a product line of specialty foods bearing his name.  So why do I consider him to be a part of the stratosphere?  Maybe because he is the winner of, count them; six (6) James Beard Awards.  Peterson didn’t earn these prestigious awards for his food at restaurants under his tenure; they’re for his passionately written books that carefully document every nook and cranny of cooking.  To date, Peterson’s work comprises fourteen books all organized by a specific category of the culinary arts.  For example, if you want to learn everything you need to know about sauces, take a look at one of his three editions of the book, Sauces.  Or if you wish to reinforce your skills in baking and pastry, you will flip through Baking.  I think you get the point.  Over the years, Peterson learned photography and now does all of the photography for his books.  Each of Peterson’s books is written in a step-by-step nature that I find to be cognitively useful and aids the reader through a successful learning process.  I own three of Peterson’s books and I’ve selected Smoky Bean & Ham Hock Soup from the book Meat for this video recipe. 
So how does a guy like James Peterson become James Peterson?  After studying chemistry at Berkley in California, Peterson went through a short spiritual growth phase in India and eventually found himself in France working for a family-owned vineyard.  Under the hospitality of this family near Carcassone, Peterson realized his passion for food and wine and decided to return to France two years later.  With a few classes from Le Cordon Bleu under his belt he slipped right into the kitchen of the then 3 star restaurant Vivarois.  Peterson also did a stint at George Blanc (then called Chez La Mere Blanc).  It was his time in France that taught him the basics of very refined cuisine and the renowned cooking of Burgundy and Bresse.  Peterson made his way back to America in 1979 and started making the rounds in New York French restaurants reinforcing his education in France. 
In 1980, Peterson started to operate his own restaurant, Le Petit Robert, in Greenwich Village.  It would be short lived as the lease ran out four years later in 1984.  However, the restaurant allowed him to develop his own style as a chef and he certainly did not go unnoticed.  One quote from Gourmet magazine describing Le Petit Robert, “what may be the most creative restaurant in New York.” is representative of the fact that Peterson’s time as a restaurateur did not go to waste.  As one door closed, another opened and James began teaching at culinary schools, one of them being The French Culinary Institute in Manhattan in which he wrote most of the curriculum. 
James wrote his first book Sauces while he was teaching.  The following is an excerpt taken from James Peterson’s website, www.jimcooks.com.  The book (Sauces) was much acclaimed—one reviewer called it “one of the best books in English of the [then 20th] century.” Richard Olney, Jim's mentor, compared it with Escoffier’s Guide Culinaire.  I can only imagine what it must feel like to be a modern day writer whose work is compared to Escoffier and declared an American classic…just amazing.
James Peterson now lives in Brooklyn, New York and is a writer, teacher, and photographer. 

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