Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pork and beans with Alton Brown's pickled pork for #SundaySupper

I hadn't intended to participate in this week's Sunday Supper, which is all about favorite chef-inspired dishes. I was busy, overwhelmed, and trying to keep up with the regular day to day. I just couldn't think of a chef's recipe that I would want to do. The research seemed daunting. And then I got the reminder email about posting #SundaySupper recipe titles to the group. And I smacked myself on the forehead. Just that morning, I had started pickling some pork, using Alton Brown's recipe. Uh, oh yeah, duh. Silly me. Serendipity strikes again.

I haven't cooked that many celebrity chef recipes even though you could call me a cooking show addict. I especially enjoy the shows where they pit chefs head to head: Top Chef, Iron Chef, Next Iron Chef, Chopped, The Next Food Network Star. Love 'em. My husband and I try to come up with ideas for the mystery basket. Ideas that we have never tried, unfortunately.

One food show that was particularly important to us was Alton Brown's Good Eats. It taught us so much about the precise methods of cooking just about anything you could think of and make it good. The show also covered food history, culture, and science. For geeks like us, it was irresistible. And it was funny. AB was such a goof on that show, so much so that we were surprised to learn about his extraordinary skill and professionalism as a producer (which we discovered on The Next Food Network Star). (And I also enjoy his natty Southern gentleman style.)

However, more important than the specific lessons in cooking various items of food or the history and science was the insight that to cook really well requires precision, knowledge of the ingredients, knowledge of the techniques. This may seem obvious, but it isn't. In some ways it was a revelation: To get superior results, you have to understand how different kinds of pans heat food differently, that some foods need to be cooked at low temperatures for a long time and some need high heat for just a few seconds, and so much more. Understanding the differences and learning to apply patience or be careful about timing really does make a difference. It was exciting because there was room for growth. It's still exciting because the only way to go is toward continual improvement if you are willing to learn.

Another key to learning as a cook is to take risks and experiment, to try things that don't sound good or to try new methods. This dish is a perfect example. The first time I heard of pickled pork, I had doubts. It didn't sound good to me at all. Sounded kind of scary actually, like those giant jars of pickled eggs you see sometimes. Thankfully, my husband went ahead and tried it about a year ago (I am in no way to be commended for my kitchen courage in this story, but the mad scientist definitely is); cooked long and slow with some beans, tomatoes, onions, and herbs, the pork transformed into a rich, filling dish perfect to take the edge of a cold night's chill. You won't believe the rich smell that rises when you remove the lid from your Dutch oven.

This dish is not difficult or labor-intensive to make but it takes a lot of time. The initial pickling of the pork takes three days, then the dish itself needs to simmer 2 to 2 1/2 hours. But it's worth it. You will divide the pickled pork in half and freeze the unused half for another day. The pork and beans, served over white rice, last a few days (unless of course, you go back for seconds and thirds, as we did last night).

For the pickled pork recipe, head over to the Food Network's website for Alton Brown's recipe. I followed this nearly exactly (skipped the celery seed; didn't have it, didn't want it). For the rest of the recipe, read on:


  • 1/2 batch of Alton Brown's pickled pork, drained (drain and freeze the other half for another use)
  • 2 1/2 - 3 cups cooked beans (1/2 lb dried beans, cooked); I used cranberry beans, you can use pintos, white navy beans, cannelini beans.
  • 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, briefly chopped in a food processor
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbsps olive oil
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp salt (or more to taste, but add near the end of the cook time to avoid oversalting)
  • 1/4 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 Tbsp whole-grain mustard 


  1. If you use dried beans, Pick-A-Pepper just turned me on to a great, no-soak method of cooking beans that cuts cooking time to 2 hours (at most) and leaves you with soft, creamy beans. I went ahead and cooked a whole pound at once and froze the second half in leftover cooking liquid.
  2. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  3. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven until it shimmers. Add the chopped onions, cook until they are soft and just starting to brown a bit. 
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir them together gently until evenly distributed. Cover the Dutch oven and place it in the oven. 
  5. Leave it in the oven for 2 hours. Taste to test the seasoning (careful, it will be very hot). Add salt to taste. Remove from the oven. 
  6. Let it cool while you cook some white rice to serve it over. Then eat it and love it. And try to avoid going back for seconds. I dare you. 
Please check out all the other great chef-inspired dishes on offer from #SundaySupper. Lots of tasty dishes and inspiration are on offer:

Starters or Snacks:

The Main Dish:

Amazing Sides:

Sweet Endings:

Wine Pairings: 

Please join the Sunday Supper group via Twitter for #SundaySupper throughout the day on December 2, 2012. In the evening, Sunday Supper members will meet at 7 PM EST for the weekly #SundaySupper live chat. All you have to do is follow the #SundaySupper hashtag, or you can follow us through TweetChat. Also check out and pin to the #SundaySupper Pinterest board, which has more than 1,600 pins with all kinds of tasty dishes.