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Jun 14, 2008 01:56 PM

rancho gordo favorites?

i'm teaching myself how to cook beans, starting with a simple diana kennedy method for mexican pot beans in their own broth. made a batch last night with rancho gordo's ojo de cabra, or goat's eye beans. they turned out fairly well, no thanks to me. the beans are just high quality.

today i stood by their stand at the ferry building farmer's market and felt kind of overwhelmed by the rather large selection of beans. i grabbed a pound of rio zape, which, according to the label, is "a rich, dense pinto-like bean with hints of chocolate and coffee." hrmph. really? being where i was, i wanted to carry my bag up to the blue bottle stand and demand that they match my beans with one of their roasts. i mean i had already almost stomped on a small child that tried to steal the last sample of a pluot from me (on accident, of course, me almost stomping a child, not her rushing in my path trying to outright steal MY pluot! parents these days!) so i was no longer in the mood for saturday tourists, and no patience left to ask detailed questions of the rancho gordo folks.

so...i'm asking you guys what your favorite rancho gordo bean varieties are, and what general uses they are best suited for. not asking for recipes. wrong board for that. and this is probably the wrong place to wonder why i can let slow-cooking roasts and such just be for the hours they need, but with beans i have to hide my salt bowl from myself, and every fifteen minutes i poke at them with my wooden spoon going, "why, why aren't you ready, you little bastards?!"

oh, and today they had their fresh tortillas. any thoughts? i usually just walk down to la palma on 24th for tortillas and the like.

i did once grab a bag of dried chiles de arbol from their stand, and they were so fragrant! i just stood there, smelling the bag for a few minutes. mmm.

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  1. We LOVE their hominy. It makes the best pozole.

    12 Replies
    1. re: srr

      --Second the hominy--it does make grand pozole
      --Santa Maria Pinquito Beans -- recently made an awesome pork stew with them; just made up a recipe and it turned out great; my friend who happened to come by and was given an impromptu dinner immediately recognized them and said they were his fave RG beans
      --I use their flageolet for cassoulet quite a bit
      --I've used Scarlet Runners -- they're really huge

      I understand being overwhelmed at the Ferry Bldg. I wanted to go today, but that meant wrangling my 3 year old by myself, which isn't fun at all--so remember that when you're calling out the parents (no worries--I know you meant no offense). In any case, next time talk to Joan at the RG booth because she is an extremely good-natured person and would be more than happy to advise in any way. She also manages the warehouse and mail ordering, so she's very involved in the business and knows a lot.

      Plus there are tons of recipes on the RG website.

      1. re: Atomica

        What is unfortunate about the recipes on the Rancho Gordo website is that they are not specific for the most part to Rancho Gordo beans.

        When I first started trying the beans I thought ... nice beans ... but a bean is a bean is a bean. However the different, sizes, texttures, tastes and colors make them unique and I'd like to know more about which would be the best treatment of them ... like there's not a ton of goat's eye bean recipes on the web, ya know.

        I like the black and white vacaro beans because they don't fade when cooked and are lovely added to a green salad.

        The large Borlotti are nice and cook up quicker than some of the other beans ... which is also true of the small santa Maria Pinquito beans.

        I like the look of the pebble beans prior to being cooked though taste-wise they didn't make too much of an impression. They were a good standard bean, but they loose the prettiness when cooked and look like ... beans.

        I thought the goats eye were fine, but probably wouldn't buy again without knowing a suitable recipe for them.

        I like the tortillas, but my heart belongs to La Boriquina in Oakland. The positive about the RG tortillas is you know you are getting prime-time ingrediants. They are soooooo much better than those weird Primavera tortillas.

        Try a new bean each week and you'll find which you like the most. It is fun to try them out.

        As to cooking beans ... and this is from the cooking idiot who has to look up how to boil eggs every Easter ... you get the hang of them after a while.

        My preferred method is not to soak. Cover and bring to a boil and then simmer for about 15 mintues. Drain ... cover with water and bring to a boil again and immediately turn down the heat and let simmer until done. Usually after 1/2 hour, I do whatever else I'm going to do with them ... add spices, onion, garlic or whatever.

        However, on the first try of any of the beans, I just cook them until done so I can get an idea of what they taste like. My only tip is that some take less time to cook than others.

        Rancho Gordo
        1924 Yajome St, Napa, CA 94559

        1. re: rworange

          There are several recipes on the site that are specific to particular bean varieties. The fact that there aren't more is probably due to the fact that his cookbook is coming out in the fall.

          I do like to soak the beans, but the small ones like the Santa Maria Pinquitos can be started in the late morning (if you forgot to soak the night before or something) and don't take very long to cook. Last time I used them, I drained them and then simmered them in water and cheap white wine I had left over.

          1. re: rworange

            "I thought the goats eye were fine, but probably wouldn't buy again without knowing a suitable recipe for them."

            and those goat's eye beans are the variety they insist that you try unadorned, at least once. now i'm reading the label on that one and it says, "this is a big fat brown bean with a superior pot liquor and flavor..." well, i agree about the pot liquor, because the broth is really good, but the beans? well i wish i had some smoked pork product in it. should've picked up one of the ham hocks at fatted calf.

            part of the reason i was asking for favorites is that i rarely actually make it to the ferry plaza farmer's market. i work late bar hours, and for me, saturday mornings in particular START at noon. i wish i had the discipline to pre-order, say, a fatted calf order so that i'd feel compelled to make it to the market, but...

            i know that rainbow carries quite a number of rancho gordo beans in bulk, but alas, no knowledgeable Joan to interrogate about which beans work well with what. there are, thankfully, folks here to help steer each other in the right direction.

            nice to know about the beans that don't fade! i thought all speckled, mottled, or bi-color beans faded when cooked.

            1. re: augustiner

              Yeah, that surprised me too. There was some chowhound post about retaining the color of beens that I gave up trying to find and just cooked the darn beans. Surprisingly the color remained.

              Rancho Gordo is also sold at the Marin Sunday market if you make it up that way. Also if you are ever in Napa, Fatted Calf sells them and I'm sure they could give you some hints.

              The Napa Fatted Calf let me increase my Rancho Gorod consumption since I wasn't limited to getting to a farmers market. I really want to try the Rancho Gordo bean soup at Ubunto ... which I think is the goats eye bean ... but ... sigh .. it is soooo hard to order soup with so many tempting things on the menu.

            2. re: rworange

              What's weird about the Primavera tortillas?

              1. re: maigre

                They don't taste like tortillas. They are too stiff, dry, thick ...whatever ... to use for much. I'm not a tortilla purist ... I appreciate a good flavored fusiony tortilla ... but to me these weren't even good in the category of over-priced, upscale flavored tortillas. I really dislike them. I made the mistake of buying a few bags in various flavors. My SO tried one and didn't bother with the others. It took me a long, long, time to finish them off. I like the tamales though.

                1. re: rworange

                  Where I live in the Mission, most of the Latino mom-and-pop stores sell thick tortillas at the counter. Usually they're still warm when you get to them. But a few hours later they're stiff and dry. If you heat them up, they're pretty good. I'm just saying--that style of tortilla is not exclusive to Primavera and I don't think they're particularly weird. Just thicker.

                  1. re: rworange

                    You get those thick, hand made ones in Mexico sometimes. Once they cool and dry, I can't argue with you. They're not so tasty. But like Atomica says, get them heated up, even steamed slightly, and they'll be better. When you get the tortillas freshly made with your meal at their stand at the FB, they're great.

                    As much as I love Primavera's stuff, I tend not to buy them, either. I don't buy tortillas that much, period. Once you get used to buying the masa and making them fresh, none of the storebought ones cut it anymore.

              2. re: Atomica

                after working through the goat's eyes and rio zape beans, i'm starting to feel more confident in my bean cooking. i think i liked the goats eye beans better, but..

                this autumn or winter i'm planning on making the toulose style cassoulet from paula wolfert's "the cooking of southwest france." i was at the ferry building today and when i stopped by the rancho gordo stand, i was a) amused because the woman i was speaking to seemed about to pull her hair out looking after her wayward mother, and b) relieved that she was quite open about the use of beans in a cassoulet, having lived in france for several years. i picked up a pound of the flageolets over the other suggestion, which may have been cannelinni beans, and with my fatted calf touluse sausages, i'm planning to make a simple pot of beans and sausage to get a feel for this rather daunting project.

                i also grabbed a dozen of their tortillas, which made a lovely impromptu quesadilla.

                so i'm curious, because you mentioned using the flageolet for cassoulet. i've only had two or three versions of this dish, but what is there not to love about a rich bean stew with assorted meats? i'm committed to this project, and intend to serve several people. one is french, and another is a very talented chef, and it makes me nervous. have you used any other RG varieties to make cassoulet? i hope the batch i have soaking will turn out well with the FC sausage, but...

                oh i'll turn more technical matters to the home cooking board when the time comes. but one more SF area question: besides the fatted calf, do you have a rec for the right sausages? maybe i should start another thread, and i will when i'm ready. because i'm just not going to make my own sausages or duck confit.

                also, i've decided i'm with the pre-soaking camp with dried beans. i've been finding that they cook more evenly that way, and i cook them with a strip of kombu to reduce the risk know... sorry if this blurs into home cooking, but i'm still talking about wonderful beans from the SF bay area, so moderators, please stay away! thanks.

                1. re: augustiner

                  I make a GIANT cassoulet every year for the holidays and buy my sausage and duck confit from French Selections:

              3. re: srr

                and presumably, you could grind it up and make wonderful grits?

              4. Try lots of them and see what you like. I buy five or six different varieties at a time. They're easy to cook and those pound bags go quickly, so you'll get to try lots of them over time. The Rio Zapes are really good. They have complexity and richness with nice texture. Texture is one of RG's distinguishing characteristics and as much as anything dictates what I end up eating along with the beans. I like Ojo de Cabra for their distinctive flavor and Yellow Eye as a creamy white style bean, too. And various others that come and go over the course of the year.

                I was at the FB today for the first time in a few months, mostly to visit with people, and got to RG just after they'd packed up. So I stocked up at Rainbow. Seems like the selection is kind of narrow right now. I think there are a lot more varieties at other times of the year.

                Soaking isn't vital, but they cook faster and they might be a little more creamy as a result. I'll soak them 12 hours or more sometimes if timing works out that way. Soak in lots of water, because they'll swell up quite a bit in most cases. Cook them simply so you can get a feel for the taste and texture. For me, that usually means sauteeing onions and usually garlic, then cooking the beans without salt. Once the beans are tender, I'll add salt, quite a bit of it, and cook it another 15-20 minutes. Forget about any notions of stopping when they're al dente. Cook them very thoroughly. It's better that way. Sometimes, I'll add carrots and celery once they're simmering. But I usually save other flavorings for after they're finished.

                The beans are so good that there's not that much need to do much to them. Just add what you want once they're cooked. Then, once you have more of a feel, use them in other ways with different ingredients. I like eating them with braised greens and do that more than anything else. Fresh made tortillas are good, too. The Mexican breakfast approach is nice. Beans, eggs, tortillas and the salsa of your liking. Hard to go wrong there, unless you're not in the mood for eggs. Epazote is a good match for some of the stronger, darker beans. RG touts the "pot liquor" of some of the beans, often for good reason. The cooking liquids can have amazingly complex and satisfying flavors.

                I realize that this experimentation takes awhile, tasting all these beans multiple times, but it's all in the journey, right?

                1. I just had a lamb "cassoulet" with Rancho Gordo yellow eye beans. It was fabulous. The beans soaked up the sauce, falling apart a little but not too much.

                  1. Two current faves are yellow eye (the go-to bean for Boston baked beans) and giant limas (ask for them) which require some careful tending, but cook up into something resembling tiny little spuds.

                    1. I love the marrow beans. Used in Tuscan bean recipes, soups etc. They are creamy yet hold their shape really well.