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People mock Twitter and sometimes with good reason, but for those looking for information from people who have put in time and effort to refine processes, Twitter can be a fantastic resource. For example, browsing Twitter back in April, I can across this gem of a tweet (the word “tweet” makes it sound so iffy) from Matthew Jennings.

I make beans a lot – an embarrassing amount – so when a chef that I admire as much as Matthew Jennings posts his bean enhancement process, I took note. Jennings is the chef/owner of Farmstead & La Laiterie in Providence and features hand made foods with ingredients native to New England. The one ingredient in the paste that caused me to take note, Awase Miso, was one that was not only foreign to New England, but completely foreign to me as well.

I had nearly forgotten about the bean paste until, nearly six months after reading the tweet, I spotted a container of awase miso, a blend of red and white miso, at Joong Boo in Chicago. After grabbing the miso, I high tailed it home and roasted a few heads of garlic and a bunch of shallots while assembling the remaining ingredients from the pantry. The rest is blender work and what you have is literally a perfect quart of what I can only describe as something far better and more useful than the name implies. “Bean paste” sounds pedestrian, but “flavor bomb” is probably slightly too aggressive for something as lovely as a bowl of beans.

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It does enhance beans, and to a high degree, but it enhances vegetables, meatloaf, and more or less everything else I have dropped a spoonful of this stuff on. Also, as a guilty admission, in the immortal words of Cousin Eddie from Vacation, “I don’t know why they call this stuff hamburger helper. It does just fine by itself, huh?” There are few things better in life than roasted garlic or shallots, but combining them, then adding umami bombs like miso and Worcestershire sauce, some bitterness from molasses, and then brightening it with cider vinegar and lemon zest makes the concentration of flavor per calorie (see Peter Kaminsky’s Culinary Intelligence) nearly off the charts.

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My favorite bean is an easy choice – Sea Island red peas from Anson Mills are far and away my favorite beans.  I use other beans from time to time, but usually only to remind me that these red peas are so good. It almost seems unfair to add the bean paste to them, but damning fairness, I did just that. Adding the paste with about a quarter of the cooking time remaining, the beans still developing their signature hammy flavors, but the paste added complexity, sweetness, and an amazing amount of savoriness to the bowl. The beans were murderously good. So good that everything else made for dinner that night went right back in the fridge, leaving the evening’s dinner as a moment straight from “Blazing Saddles”.

Bean Paste
From Matthew Jennings of Farmstead

  • 3 heads roasted garlic
  • 8 roasted shallots
  • 1 cup awase miso
  • Zest from 1 meyer lemon
  • 1/2 cup worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons black strap molasses
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar.

Purée. Makes 1 quart. Use 3 tablespoons for every 1/2 pound of beans.

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