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~State of the Union: Famous US Senate Bean Soup~

IMG_8591Bean soup has always been a part of my life.  While you may think of it as snowstorm fare, I associate it with all sorts of outdoor fun-in-the-sun activities.  When I was growing up, bean soup was served all Summer wherever people gravitated to eat, drink and be merry:  church- and hose-company fund-raising street festivals in ours and neighboring towns, both-of-my-parents and half-of-my-friends-parents annual corporate clambakes, and, when it came to planning the Summer family reunion, the biggest question was "Who's making the bean soup this year?"

IMG_8596When I was twelve, I even ate bean soup in the United States Senate dining room.

Dirksen-senate-diningBean soup is on the menu in all of the Senate's restaurant dining rooms every day and has been for over a hundred years, possibly longer -- it's an official mandate.  It a good thing I like bean soup, because, one Summer, while on a family vacation with my Uncle's family to Washington D.C., Uncle Al mandated that me and my three cousins each have a bowl of their famous bean soup for lunch --  it was very good, and, we each got to keep a copy of that days menu which included a little writeup about the soup's history.  

(^^^ Photo of Dirkson Senate Dining Room courtesy of tripadvisor.)  For the record, you can't just walk into the Senate or their dining room "off the street".  You are required to make advance arrangements, via a letter to your own State's Senator requesting passes.  The fun part:  The passes we received included tunnel access from the Senate thru to the Senate Dining Room, which gave us a chance to see various Senate offices and committee rooms en route.

IMG_8585US Senate Bean Soup, Famous Senate Bean Soup, or simply, Senate Bean Soup, is always made with navy beans, ham hocks or ham shanks and onion.  A second version includes celery, garlic, parsley and mashed potatoes (which came as a surprise to me).  Those versions are on their website, but they admit there were others because like all things, times change and so does personnel.  There was a time period when the soup was made with dehydrated mashed potato flakes, and, another in which soup base was substituted for the actual ham hocks.

4b806496a5892aa656416e64dc9ab5a2As the story goes, bean soup was a favorite of Speaker of the House, Joseph G. Cannon (1836-1926) of Illinois.  One hot, humid day in 1904, when speaker Cannon arrived for lunch and found out he couldn't order it because it had been taken off the menu for the Summer, he was outraged. "Thunderation", he roared.  "I had my mind set for bean soup.  From now on, hot or cold, rain or shine, I want it on the menu every day."  A resolution was introduced in 1907 by Senator Knute Nellson of Minnesota, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, that decreed that while the Senate is in session, "no day shall pass without Senate Bean Soup".  From that day forward, Senate Bean Soup has appeared on the menu in all eleven Congressional dining rooms every day -- regardless of the weather.

March 3, 1923: GOP Speaker J. G. Cannon is the 1st person to appear on the 1st issue of Time.

Time out to define and discuss ham shanks & ham hocks.

6a00e54ef13a4f8834015393684e10970b-400wiA bit about ham shanks and ham hocks:  Bony cuts of fatty meat taken from the legs and near the feet of the pig, with the shanks being the meatier of the two.

Ham Shank

Ham Hock

Culinarily, the ham shank and the ham hock can be used interchangeably.

IMG_6020The shank refers to a fairly meaty part just below the pork shoulder (if it is the front of the hog) or the hip (if it's from the back of the hog).  The hock refers to a much bonier cut taken from just above the feet.  Both have a thick, tough skin (which is left on) and contain a lot of tendons, ligaments and fat.  They contain a lot of collagen too, which adds silkiness to whatever they are cooked in.  All of this means they require a long, slow, moist-heat IMG_6275method of cooking, like stewing or braising, to make them edible. They are primarily added to dishes to impart smoky flavor, not substance.

Unlike ham, neither contain enough meat to be the focal point of dinner. Instead, after cooking, the skin is discarded, the meat is removed from the bone and is added to hearty dishes like soups and IMG_6015stews containing beans or peas, greens, and/or potatoes or rice.  

Hocks and shanks sold in American markets are all cured and smoked in the same manner as ham, but, the degree to which they are smoked does vary.  I've never encountered any that have been over-smoked, but, if you do, simply soak them in cold water for an hour or two to leach out some of the overly-smokey intensity.

They're both relatively cheap, but, I prefer the slightly more expensive, meatier ham shank to the bonier ham hock.  When I find them on sale, I always buy several because:  they freeze great.

Screen shot 2016-06-26 at 2.18.15 PM< Here is a screen shot of the two official recipes for Senate Bean Soup, as per wikipedia, posted by the Senate.  As you can see, one is very paired down, and, the second, the one with the more flavorful ingredients, yields 5 gallons.

Having made them both, the first was indeed a bit lack-luster for me. The second was quite good, and, I encourage you to make one or both before tweeking either recipe to come up with your own version (which I did and am sharing below). Mine, with a bit more flavor, and a few carrots too, is sure to please!

Time out to discuss soaking dried beans vs. canned beans.

IMG_8559I won't lie, I'm not a snob when it comes to canned beans.  They're a time-saving convenience.  My pantry contains a nice variety of beans, both dried and canned.  Like all conveniences, pound for pound, canned beans are more expensive than dried ones, but they hardly fall into the category of "pricey". There's more:  Both canned and dried are healthy. There is little nutritional difference between canned and dried beans either, except for sodium content: canned 450 mg./dried 0 mg.  They both contain just about the same amount of fiber, protein and calories too.

Note:  1 pound of dried beans (depending upon type and size), yields approximately 2 1/3-2 1/2 cups dried beans.  1  pound of dried beans after soaking overnight (depending upon type and size), yields approximately 5-5 1/2 cups of soaked beans  -- when soaked, beans double in size. For detailed "how to" instructions about soaking beans, along with all of my step-by-step photos, click into Category 15 and read ~ Quick-Soaking Dried Beans vs. Overnight Soaking ~.

IMG_8568^^^Everybody into the pot:  US Senate Bean Soup a la Mel:

IMG_8573As you will see by my ingredients list, I strayed very little from the "5-gallon version" the Senate posted.  While I did add a few bay leaves for flavor and carrots for sweetness and color too (I couldn't resist, I adore carrots in any bean soup recipe), I resisted the urge to substitute chicken or vegetable stock for water.  I made certain to small-dice all of the veggies too, because: the Senate bean soup that I ate in the Senate dining room contained no large pieces of anything.

IMG_85612  quarts cold water

1  pound dried navy beans, soaked over night, about 5 1/2 cups soaked beans, or, 56 ounces canned great northern beans, well-drained (Note:  cannellini beans are of similar-size and texture and may be substituted if that's what you keep on-hand in your pantry.)

1  smoked ham shank (about 1-1 1/4 pounds)

1  tablespoon minced garlic (3-4 cloves)

5  ounces peeled and small-diced carrots (about 1 1/2 cups)

5  ounces small-diced celery (about 1 1/2 cups)

5  ounces small-diced onion (about 1 1/2 cups)

10  ounces peeled and small-diced gold potatoes (about 3 cups)

1/2  cup, minced, fresh parsley (about 1/2 ounce)

3  whole bay leaves

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground or cracked black pepper

crusty bread, buttermilk biscuits or cornbread, for accompaniment

IMG_8566~ Step 1.  Place 2 quarts of water in a 6-quart stockpot.  Add the beans and ham shank.  Prep and add the minced garlic, small-diced carrots, celery, onions, potatoes and parsley to the pot as you work.  Add the bay leaves, black pepper and sea salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, cover the pot and continue to cook for 2 1/2 hours, stopping to give it a stir about every 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 2 1/2 hours.

IMG_8578 IMG_8569~ Step 2. Remove the shank from the pot. Remove and discard the skin from it, then, remove meat from the bone.  Using a fork, shred it into the smallest pieces you can and return the meat to the pot.  Over medium heat, return the bean soup to a simmer and reheat, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve immediately, or:

Tip from Mel:  If you have the time refrigerate the Senate bean soup, in the stockpot, overnight, and, then reheat it gently.  As with many things, this soups tastes better the second day, and, because the beans continue to absorb moisture, it thickens up nicely.  PS:  It freezes great too.

Simple, Straightforward and Scrumptious:  Senate Bean Soup: 

IMG_8598State of the Union:  Famous US Senate Bean Soup:  Recipe yields 3 1/2 quarts (14 cups).

Special Equipment List:  6 quart stockpot or Dutch oven w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_6568Cook's Note:  Another one of my favorite, ham shank recipes is my easy-to-make ~ Thick & Creamy Crockpot Split Pea & Ham Soup ~. You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 2, 19, 20 or 22.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)


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