Scrapcook: Flavor Your Beans With Leftover Smoked Meat

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[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

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Most of us here live in the real world. And in the real world, there's no such thing as leftover smoked brisket, beef chuck, pork, or turkey. Let's accept that as a given. But, in the interest of philosophical and gustatory pursuit, let us assume, however difficult it may be, that such a world in which smoked-meat leftovers exist, exists.

For me, that's easy, because I don't really inhabit the real world of cooking. I inhabit the recipe developer's world. A world in which test after test means that smoking a single brisket or beef chuck is not a viable option. For several weeks, my fridge was packed to the gills with leftover smoked meat, and there were only so many neighbors I could pawn it off onto.

Luckily, that smoked meat is not just great as the star of the show; it's also great as a supporting actor, adding its characteristic flavor to a pot of barbecue beans.

These beans aren't your typical over-sweet barbecue beans, with the shiny, molasses-heavy glaze you'll find in cans. They're spicy, packed with black pepper and smoke flavor, and they have just a hint of sweetness to balance them out. I start by sautéing some onion, celery, and garlic (if I happen to have some in the fridge, I may also add a green pepper or a hot chili or two), then add plenty of freshly ground black pepper, some paprika, and a touch of cumin and oregano.

For extra-deep flavor, I also add a couple of dried red chilies that I've chopped up relatively fine. I used guajillo here because it's what I had in my freezer, but you can use any mild dried red chili that's available to you. They start out papery and tough, but don't worry—they'll soften up in the time that it takes the beans to cook. Next, I add a pound of dried pinto beans that I've soaked overnight in salt water (salt in the soaking liquid helps the beans tenderize more evenly), and as much or as little chopped smoked meat as I want to use. (If you don't have leftover smoked meat, you can always use bacon, smoked sausage, or any smoked meat from the supermarket.) Cover the whole thing with water, add a couple of bay leaves, and set it on the stove.

In a few hours, after you've stirred in just a smidgen of brown sugar and cider vinegar—saving the acidic ingredients until the end helps the beans tenderize faster—you'll be rewarded with just about the most delicious pot of smoky, spicy barbecue beans imaginable.

(PS: If you want to make this even faster, break out the pressure cooker for smoky barbecue beans in under two hours, start to finish, no soaking required.)

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Now the question is, what do you do with leftover beans, assuming that a world in which leftover beans exist, exists?