Last summer I made Adam Robert’s “Best Beans of Your Life” (which are actually The Barefoot Contessa’s beans, but I head about them through Adam’s blog The Amateur Gourmet), and they were really tasty. Start with dry kidney beans, add things like ginger, red chili paste, ketchup, and maple syrup, and cook them all day in a dutch oven. They were rich, roasty, caramelized beans, with plenty of kick from the Thai chili paste that I used. I happened to make a vegetarian version of them (really), leaving out the bacon for a family picnic, and I mean it, they were really good. Well, these are not those beans. This dish is possible (and great) when you have a bit of pork left over (or a lot of pork) and some dry beans laying around; it’s also a dish where each component elevates the whole. Let’s not overthink it. It was still pork and beans, but they were nice French pork and beans; French in the best old-school way, pork and all. I described it to a friend as roughly half beans and half pork, and I was really happy with how they turned out.
On Wednesday morning, Fairway had this package marked “rib tips,” which I gather were the squared off ends from the neatly packed racks of ribs that were right next to them there in the case, the cartilaginous bits on the top, starting with a thin end and moving up to almost an inch thick of belly meat. I wasn’t even looking for ribs. I was there to pick up sausages for the 4th. But these caught my eye, partially because they were $0.99/lb, which is about $5 less per pound than the ribs were. Same meat, smaller pieces, not as pretty. Perfect. I’ll figure out what to do with them when I get home, and maybe a few chunks will find their way to the grill (or to the bean pot).
I gave half the ribs a quick 6-8 hour cure (salt, pepper, sugar), and they ended up on the grill along with a few sausages and a handful of hickory chips. They could have used more time at a lower temperature, but the flavor was great. A really lightly cured “fresh bacon” flavor, and nice as a grill snack/cook’s treat on the side, and there were leftovers. The other half of the ribs (pictured above), just got the cure and stayed uncooked until bean day.
Fast-forward to Friday, and I was thinking that these few hunks of smoked ribs would make for a great stew or chowder. That thought evolved into baked beans, which changed again when I remembered that we had some flageolet beans in the pantry (which are very useful when you’re making cassoulet). Aha moment. Cassoulet is basically French pork and duck and beans, which is great (although when you make each part yourself it does take a few days). Sure, it would be better with a few duck legs and garlic sausages, but what dish wouldn’t be? At the end of the day, it was about 2 lbs of pork to about 1 cup of dry beans, which isn’t a horrible ratio.
Since I had a mix of fresh and smoked pork ribs, I browned the uncooked (cured) ribs and meat in the bottom of a dutch oven, then removed them to a plate. Onions, celery, and carrots went in along with a tablespoon or two of tomato paste and 3 cloves of garlic. Once those were browned I added a few glugs of white wine, a bay leaf, the soaked beans (with enough water to cover) and a cube or two of pork jelly (a enormously useful leftover from any time you happen to pressure cook pig’s ears). I put the meat back in (including the smoked ribs), and let it all simmer away in a low oven for a few hours until the beans were tender and the meat was falling off the bone. At this point I fished the ribs and cartilage out and kept the dish warm until dinner. They were a nice change from the traditional sweet baked beans, they went perfectly with grilled sausages and burgers, and I didn’t miss the brown sugar or ketchup at all. A dash or two of hot sauce and these hit the spot.