Broyles: Unlocking the secrets of dried beans


Dried beans ain’t no big thing for Chasity Gordon.

Gordon is a friend of mine who has taught me a lot about life in the past few years, and she’s also helped me get over my fear of making beans from scratch.

I’ve tried all kinds of ways to make dried beans appealing: soaking them overnight and simmering with onions, spices and bay leaves; pressure cooking with a ham hock; slow cooking in a Crock Pot with a few cubes of chicken bouillon.

No matter what I do, my beans never taste as good as my friend’s, so I decided to enroll in Chasity’s School of Beans.

What qualifies her to give such an education? A three-year stint making the red beans at the now-closed Gene’s Po’Boys and the ability to turn the cheapest form of protein you can buy in the grocery store into something her now 8-year-old son, Merle, will lap out of a bowl.

Let’s start with Gene Tumbs. “He was in a hurry all the time,” Gordon says, and after she’d worked at his East Austin restaurant for a few months, he charged her with starting a big ol’ pot of red beans every Monday morning.

“I never got told how to make the fried chicken,” she says. “No one knew how to do that.”

Besides the beans, the only other ingredients he used were onions, green bell peppers, sausage, salt, pepper and a little sugar.

Tumbs liked his beans extra sweet. “He’d put sugar on his beans like he was eating Rice Krispies,” she remembers.

The red beans make their own gravy while cooking, a likker that longtime customer Clifford Antone loved. “He was in there four days a week,” Gordon says. “And he could never get enough gravy.”

In exchange for extra sauce, or just out of the generosity Gordon learned was Antone’s trademark, he’d turn her on to the kind of music that he played at his eponymous club, like Bobby Blue Bland.

The success of Tumbs’ restaurant on 11th Street helped introduce a new wave of restaurants in the area, including Hillside Farmacy, the restaurant that now occupies the former Gene’s, which closed in 2009.

Even though she left Gene’s more than a decade ago, Gordon still makes red beans and rice when she can to kick off the week. “It’s a great Monday dish. All I need is an onion and a bell pepper. I don’t have to think,” she says.

If she can’t start boiling the beans in the early afternoon, she starts the soaked beans in a Crock Pot in the morning before leaving for work. She’ll saute the onion, pepper and sausage — “the seasoning” — while she’s making breakfast, or cook them the night before and add them to the pot before leaving the house.

When she’s not making red beans, she’ll make a pot of vegetarian black beans that can be served thick as a side dish or soupy and topped with sour cream, cheese and chopped green onions.

If it’s more of a pinto bean (or Tecate) kind of day, Gordon will simmer up some borracho beans instead.

No matter what variety of beans she’s making, Gordon doesn’t mess with any quick-boiling methods for softening them. She’s a fan of soaking them all night, or at least from first thing in the morning until late afternoon.

Dump out the soaking water, pick out any “disgruntled beans,” as she calls them (she’s never found any tiny rocks or pebbles, but keep an eye out for them, too), and cover them again with water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for two hours.

After the beans have initially softened, either on the stove or on low in a slow cooker, you can start to season them, but instead of simply using dried spices or bouillon, Gordon uses one of three additions: a puree of roasted peppers and garlic (for the black beans); sauteed onion, bell pepper and sausage (for the red beans); or raw bacon, onion, jalapeño and at least a can of beer (for the borracho beans).

You could swap any of the seasoning techniques for another kind of bean, including those with fancy pedigrees, but the key is not relying on salt or dried spices for all the flavor.

Gordon says it’s important to stir the beans more frequently over the stove after you’ve added the sauteed or roasted vegetables and meat because the natural sugars can char on the bottom of the pot.

“You can’t overcook beans in my book, unless they burn,” she says. “Otherwise, they’re just extra creamy.”

Red Beans and Sausage

1 (16-oz.) bag dried red beans

4 links smoked sausage, quartered and sliced

1 small white onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 Tbsp. sugar

Soak the beans in a pot of water overnight or at least six hours. Drain the water and pick out any shriveled beans or rocks you find.

Cover the beans with an inch of water and bring to a boil. Cook on medium high until soft, about two hours, adding water as needed to keep them just covered.

While the beans are cooking, saute the sausage pieces in a skillet over medium high heat. As the fat starts to render, add the onion and bell pepper. After the beans are soft, add the sausage, onion and pepper mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Continue cooking the beans, adding water as needed, and stirring often for one to two hours. Add the sugar, stir well and serve with rice and/or cornbread and additional grilled sausages, if desired. Serves 6.

— Adapted from a recipe by Chasity Gordon

Black Beans

1 (16-oz.) bag dried black beans

3 bell peppers, any color

2 poblano peppers

1 jalapeño

2 heads garlic

1 white onion, chopped

1 can roasted tomatoes

Salt and pepper, to taste

Soak the beans in a pot of water overnight. Drain the water and pick out any shriveled beans or rocks you find.

In a large pot over medium high heat, cover the beans with an inch of water and boil for two hours.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place peppers and garlic on top of the foil and spray with olive oil. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap, and do the same with the garlic in another bowl. Let cool for 30 minutes.

While the peppers and garlic are cooling, saute the onion until soft and set aside. Remove the skin and seeds of the peppers, taking care to reserve the juice in the bowl. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skin. Place the roasted peppers, juice and garlic in a food processor and puree.

When the beans are soft, add pureed peppers and garlic, sauteed onions and canned tomatoes, including juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Reduce heat and simmer for an hour or two, stirring often and adding water, if needed, more if you plan to serve it as a soup, less if serving as a thicker side dish.

Serve with cornbread, tortillas and/or shredded cheese, chopped onions or sour cream. Serves 6.

— Adapted from a recipe by Chasity Gordon

Borracho Beans

1 (16-oz.) bag dried pinto beans

1 can Mexican beer

10 strips bacon, cut into pieces

1 onion, chopped

1 jalapeño, seeded and diced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Soak the beans in a pot of water overnight or at least six hours. Drain the water and pick out any shriveled beans or rocks you find.

Cover beans with water in a large pot over medium high heat. Boil for two hours, adding beer (and more, if needed) as the water starts to evaporate. Add bacon, onion and jalapeño. Cook, stirring often, for another hour or two. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with cornbread or tortillas. Serves 6.

— Adapted from a recipe by Chasity Gordon



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