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The Weekend Chef

Weekend Chef: Cowboy Beans

Posted 6:03pm on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013

Whenever I think of the combination of Cowboys and beans, my mind automatically jumps back to the classic campfire scene from Blazing Saddles. It was years before I could eat beans with a straight face after seeing that. (Here is the clip in case you missed it, but be warned it may scar you for life.)

OK, now that we got that out of the way, Cowboy Beans around these parts is beans made with coffee and smoked meats, like bacon or brisket (I am using some homemade smoked bacon).

Coffee in beans, you wonder?

Back on the trail, leftover coffee was often used to make beans to conserve fresh water. No need to mess with tradition, plus the coffee flavor actually complements the smoky flavor from the meat. I also like to add an onion, chili powder and some jalapeños to my beans, all pretty traditional flavors. There is one thing I add, however, that most cowboys have never heard of: kombu (kelp seaweed). I know, what self-respecting cowboy is going to put seaweed in his beans? Just hear me out…

Kombu has enzymes that break down the indigestible sugars in beans, making them softer and easier to digest. That way your less likely to have your own re-enactment of the Blazing Saddles melee.

If that isn't enough, kombu works all sorts of magic with the taste and texture of beans. They become soft and tender with a thick, silky sauce. The kombu itself does not have much taste other than a salty ocean flavor, but it really enhances the flavor of the beans and adds minerals. It also cuts down on the cook time. Best of all, it dissolves after an hour or so, leaving no trace, other than the beans being more tender and delicious. So kombu can be our little secret. Now that I think about it, what self-respecting cowboy would not add this to his beans?

You can find kombu in the Asian food aisle in some supermarkets or at Asian markets. Central Market also carries it.

Cowboy Beans

  • 1-pound bag of dried pinto beans
  • 1-pound of bacon cut into half-inch strips or cubes.
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped.
  • 2 jalapeños cut in half and seeded.
  • 1 cup of strong coffee
  • 6+ cups of water, plus water for soaking beans.
  • 3 tablespoons of “Fort Worth Light” chili powder, or 2 tablespoons store brand chili powder and 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 2 pieces (3 to 4 inches) kombu
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Day before prep:

Sort dried beans removing any stones, odd shaped or broken beans, rinse then soak in water overnight. I like soaking my beans with filtered or bottled water. Make sure that there is at least 3 inches of water covering the beans, the beans will absorb most of the water overnight.

In the morning, rinse beans and cover again with water. Leave beans soaking in water until ready to cook.

1. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 300ºF. Rinse beans one more time and drain from water.

2. Fry bacon in large Dutch oven (or pot with tight-fitting lid) over medium high heat until crispy. Remove bacon and reduce heat to medium. Add diced onions and halved jalapeños to Dutch oven and sauté until onions are translucent (3 to 5 minutes). Add garlic and sauté another 2 to 3 minutes. Add coffee and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to deglaze the Dutch oven (this adds flavor to the beans). Add bacon back to Dutch oven along with the drained beans. Add water until the beans are covered, then add kombu and stir. Simmer, then cover with lid and move Dutch oven to 300ºF oven.

3. After 1 ½ hours, remove beans from oven and check for tenderness. If not tender, return to oven until tender, making sure the beans are still covered with water. When tender, add chili powder and Worcestershire sauce, stir, then salt and pepper to taste. Return covered beans back to oven for another 15 to 30 minutes.

4. Remove from oven and serve in bowls garnished with minced jalapeños.

The beans turned out mighty tender and tasty, with just a touch of smoky heat and a little coffee finish. No hint of any seaweed, but the sauce was really thick and silky.

Be sure to check out the slideshow above for step-by-step pictures. Yeehaw!

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