My father served in the United States Navy, and...he loved navy beans. Coincidence? I think not. When I was a kid and Mom would serve up a mess of her navy beans, Dad always seemed a little happier than he might have been otherwise. As he ate his navy beans, he’d have a look on his face as if he were standing on the bow of his ship, staring off into exotic ports beyond the wine dark sea. Yes, those beans were that good.
(Dad in the Navy during World War II)
I never learned Mom’s exact recipe for her navy beans, but I’d imagine it was quite simple. Little bacon grease, salt, pepper...and that was probably about it. So in concocting this recipe, I tried to keep it simple as well and not get all crazy Nouveau Cuisine on it. But I couldn’t resist putting a few tweaks on it to make it my own. So, I compromised, and only added a little here and there to get a flavor I was satisfied with, but not depart too far from Mom’s original version. I also didn’t want to add anything that would mar the beautiful white color of the beans, so that was a criterion as well.
So, without further ado, here we go:
5-6 strips hickory smoked bacon
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ teaspoons cumin
1 ½ teaspoons white pepper
48 oz chicken broth (6 cups)
1 pound navy beans, soaked overnight and drained
The night before, soak the beans in enough water to cover them by a couple of inches. Beans will absorb some of the water. The next day, just before you’re ready to cook, drain the beans and discard the water. Reserve beans.
Simmer five or six strips of bacon until crispy. Reserve the bacon. In the bacon grease, sauté one chopped onion until it’s beginning to get translucent but not brown.
Add garlic and cook for two minutes. Add cumin and white pepper. Cook another minute. Add beans and then add chicken broth.
(I decided to use chicken broth instead of water to boost the bean’s savory character. Simmering the beans with ham hocks would be more traditional, but I’ve had trouble getting good hocks around here these days. The ones I’ve purchased at the grocery store are often slightly rancid, which ruins the dish. So I’ve sworn off of them until I find a better source)
Bring beans to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 3-4 hours, or until beans are tender.
Serve with a little of the reserved crispy bacon crumbled on top.
Until next time,
Anchors Aweigh, my friends!
The Eat'n Man ponders life, the universe, and navy beans on the deck of the USS Missouri.