A cast-iron Dutch oven filled with piping-hot pinto beans evokes images of dusty chuck wagons and prairie sunsets, but you don't need a campfire to recreate the timeless dish at home. Sealed as tight as a submarine and as heavy-walled as a bank vault, a Dutch oven is an oven, just not in the conventional sense. Pinto beans cook to toothsome tenderness in two hours in a Dutch oven, and you don't have to worry about moisture loss because nothing escapes its cast-iron confines, not even steam. You can keep pintos hot for hours by not taking off the lid.
Things You'll Need
- Aromatics, such as onions and celery
- Pungents, such as garlic and chili peppers
- Stock (optional)
- Animal fat, such as salt pork or bacon
- Meaty bone, such as ham hocks
Rinse the pinto beans in a colander under cool running water until it runs clear. Pick through the beans while you rinse them and toss out any field debris, such as stones, or anything that doesn't look like a bean. Also toss bits of beans and any discolored, shriveled beans.
Cover the beans with a couple inches of water and soak them overnight if you have the time. Discard any beans that float to the top of the water. If you want the beans yesterday, cover them with a couple inches of water in a pot and bring them to a boil. Take the pot off the heat as soon as the water boils and let the beans stand for 2 hours.
Place the Dutch oven on a large burner on the stove. Saute a few aromatics and pungents in a little oil over medium-heat until soft. Aromatics include the ingredients you find in mirepoix, such as celery, bay leaf and onions, and pungents include the stronger ingredients you use in smaller amounts, such as garlic and chili peppers.
Rinse the beans and add them to the Dutch oven, then cover them with 2 inches of cold water or stock. Stir the beans and cooking liquid, then season to taste with kosher salt.
Add a solid animal fat to the pinto beans. Saturated fat, such as pork fatback, salt pork and bacon, that renders slowly works best with dried beans because it stays in the cooking liquid throughout simmering.
Add meat with a lot of connective tissue or a meaty bone to the beans. The gelatin in cuts such as ham hocks, hog maws, pork neck and veal knuckles, to name a few, transform the cooking liquid into the rich, full-bodied broth that pinto beans need for flavor and substance.
Bring the pinto beans to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Lower the heat to barely a simmer and cover the Dutch oven with the lid.
Taste the pinto beans after 2 hours. The stock water should have a thick consistency and coat the tongue as well as the back of a spoon. The beans should be tender but toothsome, but hold together when you bite into them.
Take any bones out of the pot of pinto beans and return any meat you pick off them to the Dutch oven. Season the pinto beans to taste a final time and stir. Serve immediately and store them up to 2 days in the refrigerator.
Tips & Warnings
- You can also cook the pinto beans in the oven after you bring them to a boil. Place the covered Dutch oven in a 300-degree-Fahrenheit oven and cook for 2 hours.
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