Growing up, beans and rice was one of my favorite meals. My father liked his beans with smoked ham hocks. So, that’s how my mother cooked them. She and my sister thought ham hocks were disgusting, however, and wouldn’t touch them, and, because I was often lumped into their “lady like” preferences by default of gender, I wasn’t offered any either. At some point, however, I found my voice and started begging my dad to share his with me. Eventually, my mother started adding two ham hocks to her beans, and so I got a whole hock to myself and my dad no longer had to share his. I sat at my mother’s table devouring that whole ham hock skin, fat, meat and all with her and my sister throwing all kinds of shade my way, but I licked my fingers clean when I finished it despite their disapproval.
So, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been one of those gals who never understood placing gender on foods, and never much liked the idea that I wasn’t supposed to eat something deemed “man food”. No, thank you! You can straight up miss me with that tiny filet mignon, boneless, skinless poultry, and I’ll have extra mustard with my sausages, please! I will walk around any event with smoked turkey legs for sale shamelessly gnawing on it like a caveman. Give me bones and smoke and char and don’t waste any of my flavor by removing the fat! If that means I’m not a lady, then I’ll happily not be one!
Simply put, if I like it, then I eat it, and to this day I do not like beans without ham hocks. It just doesn’t taste or feel right to me. My slow braised pintos are definitely a cool weather comfort meal perfect for this time of year, and it’s also no fuss enough to whip up on your busiest day. And, as stated, this recipe unapologetically includes two smoked hocks, but if lusciously gelatinous smoked pork isn’t your cup of tea, then sub them out for smoked turkey wings, smoked sausage, or add in the smoky flavor completely vegan with liquid smoke. It’s totally up to you. Serve the beans with rice, cornbread, chips, or charred tortillas.
1 lb dried pinto beans, sorted through to ensure there is no debris in with the beans
about 4 – 6 cups water or stock
2 smoked ham hocks
1 dried ancho chili
1 dried guajillo chili
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 jalapeno, stem removed, left whole, with a small slit cut from top to bottom
2 dried avocado leaves
4 bay leaves
2 tbsp cilantro paste
salt and pepper to taste
Set a slow cooker to the High setting. Add in all the ingredients with 4 cups of water or stock. Add a generous amount of salt and pepper. Cover with the lid and cook on high. Occasionally check the beans and add more stock or water as needed so the beans do not burn. At four hours, check the tenderness of the beans and ham hocks, and continue cooking until desired doneness is reached up to 6 hours. Once beans are tender, turn the slow cooker off and carefully remove the ham hocks to a clean surface. Set aside and allow the pork to cool.
Remove from the beans and discard the bay and avocado leaves and both the dried chilies. Remove the jalapeno, if it hasn’t completely broken down, chop and add back to the beans. Once the hocks have cooled, remove and discard bones. To finish, rough chop the pork and add back to the beans as much of the ham hocks as desired (I add it all back in, if I don’t snack on too much of it first!). Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve the beans immediately with sides and garnishes of choice.