Slow-Cooked Pinto Beans With Pork Belly & Skillet Corn Bread ~ The Garden of Eating - a sinfully good blog about food

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Slow-Cooked Pinto Beans With Pork Belly & Skillet Corn Bread

Happy Day After The Rapture to y'all. The good news is that we dodged a bullet on the apocalypse, the bad news is that we're in for a looooong slog of continued wet and shitty weather.

Last week's swiss chard & barley gratin was a good start but a glance at the 10-day weather forecast for Woodstock, NY (picture 10 rainy icons with little lightning bolts on 'em) tells me it's time to get serious about the comfort food. So I'm kicking my game up a notch with this pair of recipes for slow-cooked pinto beans with pork belly and skillet corn bread.

Adding shredded pork to the beans by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

The inspiration for this meal comes from my mom-in-law, Liz, who is a serious devotee of the slow-cooker and also happens to be married to a native of west Texas where this sort of fare hails from. She made this wonderful meal for us a few times this winter and it was a welcome bright spot of satisfying, hearty deliciousness in those cold, dark and snowy months.

Dried pinto beans by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

There is something magical about the way a bunch of hard, dried beans and some pieces of fatty pork turn into a rich, savory treat with the simple additions of stock, vegetables and time.

Washing the pinto beans by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

I don't have a slow-cooker but I'm happy to report that these beans are equally delicious when made in a dutch oven. I did not have the forethought to soak the pinto beans overnight the day before I made this so I used the quick method (outlined below in the directions) to prepare them for cooking, instead. Turned out great!

Quick cooking the pinto beans by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog

Once the beans were ready, I added a very roughly chopped mirepoix of carrots, celery and onions, threw in the pork belly (which I cut into a few large chunks to ensure that the beans would get more even exposure to its delightful fatty porkiness), and a big handful of thyme sprigs from our plant. Then I covered it all with a mixture of chicken stock and water and let it stew for a good long while (we're talking many hours!)

Pork belly, pinto beans, carrots, celery, onion, garlic and herbs await stock by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

Once the beans were truly soft and the pork belly was falling apart, I took the chunks of pork belly out, removed the meat from the fat, threw away the hunks of fat and returned the meat to the pot of now-delicious beans for a little more cooking.

Adding shredded pork to the beans by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

Meanwhile, it was time to make the cornbread. It's a simple but scrumptious bread that makes a perfect foil for a soupy, savory pot of beans. The recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman's.

Pouring cornmeal by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

While I was mixing the batter, I placed the skillet in the oven to let it and the bacon drippings in it heat up. This is the trick to getting a nice crusty bottom on the cornbread. When the batter was ready, I removed the skillet and poured the batter in. The cold, wet batter made the most satisfying sizzle as it met the skillet's hot, fat-covered iron. Then back into the oven it went to bake.

Skillet corn bread by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

A mere 30 minutes later, it emerged from the oven, nicely browned and with the aforementioned crispy bottom.

Skillet corn bread by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

I regret that this final picture does neither the deliciousness nor the aesthetic pleasure of the meal justice. By the time we got around to eating it, we were all starving, it was dark out (my indoor lighting situation is far from ideal and I have yet to find time to remedy it) and our son was cranky, hence the less than stellar photo below. But let me assure you that the end result was truly mouth-watering.

Pinto beans with pork belly & skillet corn bread by Eve Fox, The Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

Try this recipe out when you can do the bulk of the cooking the day before you plan to serve it as it requires time to develop its flavors and get the pork to that tender, falling apart place.

Slow-Cooked Pinto Beans With Pork Belly
Serves 6-8


* 1 lb dried pinto or great northern beans
* 1 pork belly (you can also use a large ham hock)
* 1 large onion, diced
* 3 large carrots, diced
* 3 large ribs celery, diced
* 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
* 1 3/4 quarts sodium-free chicken broth or stock
* Handful of fresh thyme
* 1 tsp hot sauce
* 3 Tbsps molasses (pomegranate or blackstrap), honey, or sugar
* Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


1. Prepare the beans for cooking. Sort the beans, removing any small stones, dark or oddly-shaped beans, then rinse with cool water. Place the beans in a large pot or bowl, cover with water by 2 inches, and soak for 8-12 hours or overnight. At the end of that time, discard the soaking water and rinse the beans. This last step improves cooking time and may reduce gas-causing compounds.

If you don't have all day, you can also use the "quick" prep method for the beans: sort and rinse the beans, then place them in a pot and add water to cover the beans by 3 inches. Bring to a boil,  remove from heat and allow the beans to sit for one hour, covered. Drain, rinse and cook.

2. Put the prepared beans, pork belly, carrots, onion, celery, garlic, thyme, hot sauce, molasses or honey in a large dutch oven and add the chicken broth. If the liquid does not cover the ingredients, add more stock or water to bring it up a bit more. Please note that you should not add salt until much later in the process when the beans are finished cooking as salt will prevent the beans from getting tender.

3. Cook, partially covered, on medium to low heat (you want this barely simmering) for 4-8 hours until the beans are creamy and tender and the meat from the pork belly is falling to pieces. Remove the pork belly and separate the meat from the fat, returning the meat to the pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste and make any other adjustments needed -- you may find that you want to add a splash of lime juice, hot sauce or molasses to bring the flavors in line with what you're looking for.  Cook for another 10-20 minutes to meld the flavors.

4. Serve with skillet corn bread. Enjoy!

Skillet Corn Bread
Serves 6-8


* 11/4 cups buttermilk, milk, or yogurt (use organic)
* 2 tablespoons bacon drippings, butter or extra virgin olive oil
* 11/2 cups medium-grind cornmeal
* 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
* 11/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1-2 tablespoons molasses or honey (you can use more if you like sweet corn bread)
* 1 egg (use organic, pasture-raised)


1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Place the skillet in the oven while you mix the ingredients to allow time for the bacon drippings (or butter or oil) to heat up.

3. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix the egg into the buttermilk. Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients (just enough to combine); if it seems too dry, add another tablespoon or two of buttermilk. Pour the batter into the prepared skillet or pan, smooth out the top if necessary, and put in the oven.

4. Bake about 30 minutes, until the top is lightly browned and the sides have pulled away from the pan; a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean. Serve hot or warm.

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Sage Trifle said...

Mmmm. My kind of eating. Beautiful photos!

Kay Johnston Tucker said...

Thank you for the recipe, it looks heavenly. Here in Kansas we are finding it difficult to do anything like cooking low and slow. Our tornado season has been kinging us in the backside! Can't leave things on the stove while we are cowering in the basement!

Jamie Dougherty said...

It may be sunny in Berkeley but this still looks good. Thanks!

Kristy Gardner said...

I can sympathize with your lack of proper lighting situation - I fight with that all the time. Stupid lighting. Stupid cheap, phone camera...

But your photo does look good. And the recipe even better. I can't wait to try it.

PS. Stupid raining weather too... When will it ever be Spring?!!

Trase said...

Just found your website and I'm drooling all over myself from reading all of these great-looking recipes. I'm going to be trying this one out tomorrow - I have the beans soaking tonight. :) Just curious, what size skillet did you use for the cornbread? Want to make sure I account for any size differences in the cooking time. Thanks so much! :)

Eve Fox said...

good question. Mine is huge. I think it would probably be better in a smaller one. Just check it partway through to see if it's done.

TheAtomicHouse said...

Making this tonight and it smells fantastic while cooking. I know this is an older recipe post but I used it tonight and thought I'd say thank you!


Eve Fox said...

That is very nice to hear!