by Lauren Feldman
Beans. Simple and unassuming, this lowly legume has long been an important part of the American West. It’s deeply ingrained in Western history and cowboy iconography, because pioneers, prospectors, and cowboys relied on beans as a trail staple. Inexpensive, readily available, and easily portable, beans fill the belly, thanks to high protein content. And all a cowboy needs to prepare a meal is a pot, some water, and a campfire.
Because plain-cooked beans are so bland, cowboys devised ways to make them more interesting—chili, mashed beans, bean soups, and fried bean patties were all variations along the trail. Today, beans enjoy many incarnations, but cowboy-style beans remain a true Western classic. In this recipe by Kessler Canyon Ranch’s Chef Leonard McNab, the basic recipe gets a sophisticated, spicy upgrade with the addition of pablano chiles and jalapeno peppers.
Beans are so closely correlated with cowboy life that they were lampooned in the infamous “bean scene” of Mel Brook’s satirical Western Blazing Saddles (1974). The backbone of any good chili, however, beans have starring roles in chili cook-offs across the country. No longer a begrudged trail food, beans have been elevated to fine cuisine—sort of.
Dutch Oven Cowboy Beans
• 3 cups dried pinto beans
(6 cans pre-cooked)
• 2 tablespoons beef base
• 1 small chunk beef fat
(vegetable oil or lard will work, too)
• 1 large yellow onion, chopped
• 6 cloves garlic, minced
• 4 green poblano chiles
(canned or fresh, roasted and peeled)
• 1/2 cup canned jalapeno slices
• 1/4 cup pickling juice from jalapenos
Heat up a 12-inch Dutch Oven (2 quarts) over some coals or on your stove top. Add your fat, onions, and garlic. Cook these until lightly browned. Add in the rest of your ingredients and fill almost to the top with water. (You might want to leave out the water if cooking with canned beans. Simmer lightly for 2 ½ -3 hours until beans are done. Adjust the flavor with salt and pepper accordingly.
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