There's nothing more Southern then a pot of beans that has been simmered until tender and creamy, flavored with smoked ham hocks. There's also nothing more controversial than how to cook your beans. Soak vs Quick-soak vs Don't Soak.......Change water vs Cook in soaking liquid.......Salt at the beginning vs Salt at the end.........Cook covered vs Cook uncovered; and on and on.
Do what works best for you. It's important for you to figure out what works best for you with your equipment, altitude, etc. This is what works for me.
Simple ingredients can sure produce a tasty, stick-to-your-ribs meal. Here we have Great Northern beans, smoked ham shanks (ham hocks are good too), onion, garlic, thyme and bay leaf.
After the soaking period add to the pot the ham shanks or hocks, onion, garlic, and bouquet garni. Add enough boiling water, if necessary, to cover beans. Bring to a boil then simmer, uncovered, until beans are tender. Check at 1 hour. Add additional boiling water if necessary to keep beans submerged. Beans are usually done in an hour to an hour and a half.
I salt at the end of cooking for a couple of reasons: 1) I agree, from experience, that salting at the beginning toughens the skin of the bean and it takes longer to cook; and 2) you never know just how salty your hocks will be.
Serve with cornbread. It's the law.
Ham Hocks and Beans
1 pound dried Great Northern beans
8 cups water
1 large yellow onion
1 large clove garlic
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 pound smoked ham hocks or ham shanks
Extra water, if necessary
Kosher salt, to taste
Rinse beans and place in 5 quart pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Remove pot from heat, cover and let soak for one hour.
While the beans are soaking, chop the onion and garlic and set aside. In a small square of cheese cloth wrap up the thyme and bay leaf and tie with kitchen twine.
Add the onion, garlic, bouquet garni, and ham hocks to pot of beans. If necessary, add enough boiling water to cover beans. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until tender. Check at 1 hour and add any additional liquid to keep beans covered (be sure to boil water prior to adding to pot).
Remove hocks or shanks. When cool, remove meat and return to pot. Serve with hot cornbread.