Saturday, January 22 is National Soup Swap Day, and the kind and generous folks over at almost foodies have invited me to participate. This is the second year I’ll be soup swapping, and I’m looking to redeeming myself after previously failing to sell a very straightforward but tasty squash soup. Soup swap note: bring some marketing terms; try artisanal, slow cooked, sausagey, French, or fresh-ground pterodactyl.
Assuming you’re literate you’ve figured out that I made a Spicy Smoked Pork Black Bean Soup. I thought about calling it Spicy Smoked Pork and Black Bean Soup or maybe Spicy Black Bean Soup with Smoked Pork but you know, I want to be more direct here. So that fella up top is a little over one and a half pounds of smoked pork hock, from Locust Grove Farms in Argyle NY. I credit him with basically all of the deliciousness in my soup; thanks, little buddy.
Let’s run down a quick how-to. I don’t want to call this a recipe because I think it’s better if you’re a little loose with the rules. And I don’t claim this is the best spicy smoked pork black bean soup ever, but at the end I’ll tell you how to make it the best ever.
You’re going to start with chopped vegetables. Basically, whatever variation of mirepoix you like, just make sure you’ve got a liberal amount of fresh hot chiles in there. I added some green pepper for some extra non-carrot sweetness, and what you see above is for three pounds of dried beans. I could have gone heavier on the onions, in fact. You want to sauté all that for a couple minutes, add some chopped garlic, then sauté (or maybe sweat) until everything’s soft. The carrots are the hardest so I guess cook until those are soft. Then you have a choice: purée now or purée later. Doing it now will give you a smoother soup in the end with fewer obvious vegetable chunks, but that means puréeing twice, and also seeing what this would all look like, if you ate it, after two hours. I say if you have an immersion blender, add a few cups of water and go to town, otherwise you’ve got enough work later, don’t wear yourself out with all the puréeing.
Next comes that delectable hock. It will smell so good you’ll just want to bite a chunk off right now, and I won’t stop you. It’s good stuff, but if you can’t get your hands on it, I’ve been known to use any other smoked pork product or even salt pork. I’d bet even those smoked turkey parts you find near the tubs of chicken livers would work fine, if you try it, let me know. But the hock has just the right amount of connective tissue and tasty marrow to really bring a soup together. So, after that’s in there, add the beans you’ve been soaking — you did soak your beans, right? — and then add water to cover by about a half inch. Cover, simmer for about three hours, and try to keep your mind off of soup as the scent of slowly cooking pork fills your home.
Now you can take your pork out and let it cool a bit before yanking off all the meat you can. There’s going to be some skin and fat on there (I’ll look the other way as you eat that), but you want to get as much of that meat as possible, and then dice that to go back in the soup. This particular measuring device above indicates that I recovered a volume of pork equal to half that of the human brain. In universal terms, that’s 25,000 unicorn tears.
Before you reintroduce the pork, purée those beans. They’re going to be pleasantly soft by now, and all that gelatin is going to help make a nice thick soup. You don’t have to make it baby food smooth, in fact I like a few chunky beans here and there, but it’s up to you. I suppose you could even get out the potato masher or something and do a really coarse job of it, and get a bit of a workout. Screw Crossfit, all you need is souping.
When you’re done it should look something like this. Actually, it should look better because soup is hard to photograph. My serving suggestion is rice but try it over bread, your significant other, whatever. It’s good stuff, and with the right amount of chiles it has a building heat, not that searing full-frontal burn.
So I said I’d tell you how to make this even better. The key is to switch up the recipe however you want. I believe the best thing about cooking is flexibility; with a little knowledge you can pull together anything you want with your own personal touch. A soup like this is a great example because if you know how to sauté and simmer you have all the technical details down — if you can’t figure those two out, date someone who cooks. The rest is up to you, go ahead and use different beans, meat, vegetables, spices, herbs, whatever. Make it taste the way you want, and that will be the best food in the world.
I’m hoping this one goes over well at the swap, look for an update soon. In the meantime, here’s last year’s swap.