Influenced by Spain, this fabada-style recipe takes pork and beans to a higher level. Smoked ham hock, chorizo sausage, and belly pork are simmered with cayenne pepper, paprika, cannellini beans, garlic, onions and potatoes. Big flavors, big servings. Result? Big applause. It’s delicious as a stew-like meal with crusty bread or try it as a hearty side.
I’m a pork fan. Baked gammon, crackling-coated roasts, Kassler chops, BBQ ribs, English bangers and pork pies, and bacon. Hmm, bacon. Lots of bacon, please. It seems the porky wonders never cease. And then there’s the smoked ham hock, chorizo sausage and a slab of belly pork that glorify this wonderfully rich and gently spicy stew.
Some while back, I read about a signature dish from Asturia, a province of northern Spain. It was in The Spanishwoman’s Kitchen, by Pepita Aris. It’s available on Amazon. Half travelogue, half cookbook, it’s as welcome in my kitchen as it is at my bedside. All of the places and recipes fascinate and delight me. That’s especially true of Asturia’s pork ‘n beans.
Often referred to as fabada asturia — or simply fabada, meaning bean stew — it should really feature Spanish blood sausage, morcilla. Now, I just love the English variety, black pudding, and the French have a fine one called boudin noir. But I can’t get any version locally, so decided to carry on regardless with a sort of bloodless fabada. And, boy oh boy, was I pleased I did!
I also left out the traditional few sprinkles of saffron. That’s ludicrous money for microscopic amounts that can — especially in a mega-flavored stew like this — be substituted with a little ground turmeric. Just like sensibly suggested here.
Fabada-style pork and beans starts with a rewarding trip to your trusted butcher
What I definitely did need was an eisbein. That’s a chunky, lightly salt-cured and smoked ham hock (sometimes called a pork knuckle) with German roots. Unlike morcilla, cured and smoked hocks are widely available — just like chorizo sausages and slabs of bone-in pork belly.
But these hocks aren’t small, and that’s why this recipe yields easily enough to satisfy six pork lovers.
For the chorizo, I used a well-spiced version with an obvious hit of chili alongside the essential paprika flavor. That’s veering more towards a typical Portuguese-style sausage, but any well-made chorizo will be just dandy.
As for the pork belly, that needs to be a single, fresh, thick slab with the bones left in and the rind still on. Why? Well, before it gets to simmer in your big pot, the slab is going to be fried a little in a hot skillet. That will draw out some of its lovely crackling flavor, and will give you a fine base for gently softening the onions and garlic.
A word about the beans
Cannellini. No question. You want firm, meaty beans that will keep their texture, shape and nutty flavor as they’re simmered with all the other ingredients.
And, for me, canned is the way to go. Tipped into a colander, thoroughly rinsed under cold running water and then allowed to drain really well. But, remember these are ready-cooked beans. That means they only need to be added to your big pot towards the end of the cooking rather than at the start.
The peppers — cayenne, black, paprika, and white
Paprika features because it’s distinctly smoky, slightly sweet, has very mild heat and is just great for contributing an appealing, deep red color. The cayenne pepper is here to add some noticeable heat without flavor impact — but in a friendly, homely sort of way that’s more warming than fiery.
White and black pepper both come from the same spice plant. You can discover more about that here. White is the fine ground, make-ya-sneeze pepper that was always on the table in a pepper pot throughout my childhood and teens. No fancy pepper grinders back then. It’s got a hotter, more obvious peppery kick than the black variety which has a far fruitier flavor. That’s why you’ll taste the white pepper right up front, while the black will bring in a more subtle, lingering after-burn.
Fabada-Style Pork And Beans
- 5-quart stock pot
The pork and chorizo
- 1 ham hock whole (weighing roughly 2 pounds), lightly salt-cured and smoked – thoroughly washed in a bowl of cold water. Bone-in and skin on is the way they come. It’s fine to go over the two-pound mark a little, but rather not go much below it.
- 1 pound pork belly in a single, bone-in, skin-on slab
- 10 ounces Spanish chorizo sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
The stock – for cooking the ham hock, and creating the base for the stew
For the stew
- 1 yellow onion peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 cans cannellini beans 14-ounce cans, thoroughly rinsed and drained
- 2 heaped teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Slow-simmer the ham hock
- Fill your big pot with 8 cups water, and add the ham hock together with all its stock ingredients except the potatoes – they go in later. (So, that’ll be the black pepper, turmeric, paprika, onion, and garlic.)
- Set the pot on a high heat and bring it to the boil. As soon as that happens, drop the heat to low and cover the pot. Now let it just barely simmer on that low heat for 2 1/2 hours.
- Turn off the heat, add the potatoes, cover the pot, and let the whole lot cool for an hour. That’s important because you want the hock to sit in the stock until it’s cool enough for you to remove the rind/skin and the meat from the bone. It’s also important because it allows the potatoes to absorb the stock’s flavors.
Prepare the pork belly, chorizo, onion, and garlic
- Add the olive oil and butter to a big skillet set on high heat. Once the buttery oil foams, add the pork belly – skin side down – and drop the heat to medium. You’re aiming to fry this side so that it crisps to a deep golden colour but doesn’t char. That’ll take about about ten watchful minutes on that medium heat.
- Now drop the heat to low and gently fry the other side for 20 minutes. Take it out of the skillet, turn the heat to medium, and add the rounds of chorizo. Fry these on each side for two minutes until they just begin to take on a little crispy colour. Remove them from the skillet and drop the heat to low.
- Add the onions and garlic to the fatted skillet. Fry gently on low with a few stirs for about 7 minutes – so that the onions soften and start to pick up a little colour. Good. Time now to assemble the stew for its final cooking.
Pulling it all together
- Remove the ham hock from the cooled stock. Peel away the skin/rind from the layer of fat beneath it. As neatly as you can, pull all the meat and fat from the bone in the largest possible chunks. Use a small sharp knife to help you here – and to cut away any tough sinews – but try to the keep the meat in big chunks. Discard the sinewy bits, and cut all the chunks into 1/3-inch slices – fat and all. Keep the bone – it’s going back into the big pot.
- Set the pot with its stock and potatoes on a high heat. Add the slab of fried belly pork, slices of ham hock, its bone, the fried onions and garlic, all the fat from the skillet, cayenne pepper, white pepper, and cannellini beans. Bring the pot to the boil, then drop the heat to low and cover the pot.
- Let it simmer gently – and I mean gently – for about 50 minutes. You want the potatoes to slowly cook through but still keep their shape. Give the pot a few careful stirs while it’s simmering away, but do take some care not to break up the potatoes or the beans.
- After the pot’s been simmering for 30 minutes, check for saltiness. You’ll probably find the potatoes have soaked up a fair amount of salt, so you may need to adjust to your taste. As soon as you are happy with the potatoes, turn off the heat. You’re nearly done and almost ready for serving.
- Remove the hock’s bone and the belly pork with a slotted spoon. Let the belly pork cool slightly on a carving board. Soon as you can, cut off the now-softened rind / skin, and slice all the rest cleanly from the bones into bite-size pieces. Return these pieces to the pot.
- If you feel the stew’s a bit too thick, by all means add some more water – not a lot, but just enough to give a consistency that suits you.
- Now bring the pot up to a bare boil, give it one last combining stir and turn off the heat. Done! Ready to serve.