old fashioned ham and beans

This is a recipe that is full of nostalgia for me.  Both my mom and dad grew up eating ham and beans as children  - partly because it was so cheap, and partly because a few ingredients could feed both of their large families.  As such, whenever the temperatures dropped in the winter, my father would produce a ham hock from the fridge and slowly simmer it with a pot of beans and spices all day long.  

When Al's mother sent us a honey baked ham (so good) I was more excited about the ham hock than the ham itself.  I knew exactly what I was going to do with it. :) I've taken my father's main technique and ingredients, added a few additional spices and done this two ways - one slowly simmers on the stove all day, and the other can be done in a slow cooker for a quick weeknight meal. 

The flavor is the star here - rich and hearty.  Serve this classic comfort food with some skillet cornbread for sopping (I use this recipe) and hot sauce for a kick, (and raw onions if you're my grandpa).  The perfect winter meal - and it will last for days!


  • Note beans must be soaked over night or for 30 minutes in boiling water.
  • Prep time:  10 minutes
  • Cook time:  2 - 3 hours for stove top version.  6 - 8 hours for slow cooker version.
  • Serves:  8
  • This recipe refrigerates well, although before reheating , I recommend removing some of the fat that solidifies on the top of the cooled soup (ew!). 
  • 1 ham hock (I cut off some of the big fatty pieces from the bone)
  • 1/4 lb. (or more) ham, diced (this is optional, but I like a little extra meat in mine)
  • 1 Vidalia onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1 lb. white navy beans - dry (sort out the bad beans, and soak overnight in water or soak in boiling water for 30 minutes, drain before ready to use)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more depending on your heat tolerance)
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth (I find chick stock to be too chicken-y (?) in this. You want it to taste like ham, not chicken.  I recommend chicken broth, but if you have stock on hand use that.  Or just use water.)
  • 6 cups water
Stove Top Directions:
This version, I find, produces a more flavorful soup just because you get a good sear on the ham hock first.  I recommend this version if you have time to monitor the stove top for 23 hours.
  1. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat.
  2. Once hot, add the ham hock and brown each side until a good crust forms - about a minute per side.  Rotate ham hock until all sides are brown.
  3. Remove ham hock from the pan and set aside.
  4. The ham hock should have left enough fat in the pan to cook the vegetables.  If not, add just enough oil (vegetable, olive, canola, whatever you have) to cover the bottom of the pan.
  5. Add the onions and season with salt and pepper.  Saute until soft, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
  6. Grate in the garlic cloves and cook one minute until fragrant.
  7. Stir in beans, brown sugar, cloves, and cayenne. 
  8. Add ham hock, diced ham, chicken stock, and water.
  9. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium low and simmer two - three hours until beans are creamy.
  10. Taste and season again with salt and pepper.
  11. Remove ham hock and bay leaf before serving.
  12. Suggested accourement:  corn bread, hot sauce (a must for me!), ketchup, raw diced onion
Slow Cooker Directions:
  1. Place ham hock (if you have time to sear all sides first in a skillet on the stove, I recommend it.  But if in a hurry, it's not a must.), onions, garlic, beans (you still need to soak them!!), spices, chicken broth, and water in large slow cooker.
  2. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours until beans are creamy. 
  3. Remove ham hock and bay leaf before serving.
  4. Suggested encouragement:  corn bread, hot sauce (a must for me!), ketchup, raw diced onion.
Nutrition: (per serving)
Calories:  170
Carbs:  20
Fat:  4
Protein:  17


{recipe and images by me}
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