Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Rancho Gordo Beans




Is $8/Lb too much to pay for a bag of dry beans? I used to think so a year ago. I don't any more.

You can probably count on one hand the number of product reviews I've done since I started this blog 9 year ago? Food products these days pop up faster than mushrooms after a rain shower, and just like mushrooms, majority of what comes up is not edible. Stumbling on Rancho Gordo in this age of food product bombardment is like stumbling on a chanterelle treasure trove -- it makes your heart pound with delight at the rarity of the event and all the delicious possibilities it promises.
I don't accept free products of any kind. There is no disclaimer in the end of this post that the beans were free, but opinions are all my own. Neither am I writing this post after trying Rancho Gordo for the first time. I have spent over $50 on Rancho Gordo bean and these beans were worth every penny (except for 1 bag, but nothing is perfect).

My obsession with these beans started about 6 months ago. I desperately needed white beans for a class, and Whole Foods was out of all dry white beans. I stopped by Formaggio's in Cambridge and saw Rancho Gordo beans. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I closed my eyes to the $8 price tag and bought a bag. All I was hoping for was that they would soften before the class was over and would cook evenly. I got all that, but I also got character I've never seen in a bean before. It was like drinking a Burgundy Premier Cru after living on Charles Shaw.

The availability of Rancho Gordo beans in Boston is unpredictable. Few stores carry them and those that do offer only a couple of varieties. I checked Rancho Gordo web site and sure enough they sold their beans on-line. Most stores sell Rancho Gordo brand for $8/Lb and on-line they are $6/Lb with a $12 flat shipping fee. Ordering 6 bags makes on-line beans the same prices as store bought, but with 10 times the varieties to choose from. Unfortunately most varieties were unfamiliar, and my go-to cannellini were unavailable. I got on the waiting list for them, but after a few months never heard back. Curiosity finally got the better of me and I ordered 6 bags of beans with names I've never heard before.

It only took me 1 month to cook them all. I didn't expect to go through them so quickly, but each variety was an eye opening experience and I got addicted to always having a pot of beans in my fridge.

Yellow Indian Woman
My favorite variety so far. These small caramel colored beans have unobtrusive skin that gets very tender, but doesn't burst. The flavor is lightly sweet and reminiscent of fudge. Texture is very creamy. Great in everything.

Rio Zape
Everything is bold and large about these beans. They are big, they are dark, they are a mouthful that is almost aggressive and slightly tannic. Steve Sando, the owner of Ranch Gordo describes them as tasting of coffee and chocolate. When I first read his descriptions of the beans, I thought they were the kind of romantic BS people write about wine -- "sunset on the beach with notes of hay." But after I tried 6 varieties, I was floored by how accurate these descriptions were -- coffee and chocolate indeed. These beans are very thick skinned and need a lot of cooking to make the skins tender. Luckily they don't burst easily and can withstand prolonged cooking. Would be great in a chili or with braised short-ribs.

Borlotti
Similar to rio zape, but a bit smaller and lighter in color. As an experiment, I froze some after cooking (drained and placed in a single layer in a zip lock bag). Other varieties might freeze well too, but that's the only one I tried freezing. They withstood it exceptionally well and even got better since the skins get softer. Borlotti were great in a soup, and with braised sturdy greens (like kale and chard).

Mayacoba
In their raw state, these beans are slightly green, but after cooking they turn beige. The texture and flavor are like cannellini without any bursting problems. The skin is thin and unobtrusive, but holds together beautifully. Texture is rich and silky. An extremely versatile bean.

Brown tepary
Very small bean with a few surprises: it tastes like chestnuts, and inspite of its diminutive size, took longer to cook than most beans (more like chickpea timing instead of cannellini). These are very sturdy beans that don’t easily turn mushy. The skins are thin, but resilient, so don’t be afraid to give them all the necessary time to get tender. To show off their unique flavor, I cooked them with sugar and vanilla bean and pureed with milk, cream, and butter to make a sweet filling for cream puffs inspired by Japanese red bean paste. Leftovers were fantastic spread on toast for breakfast.

Large Lima
I didn’t get along with this one. Most of the skins burst during the soak, and the beans turned out watery after cooking. This happened to me with other brands of Large Lima before. Maybe it’s just not my kind of bean.

April 30, 2014 update -- tried more varieties

Good Mother Stallard
It looked like a cooking disaster at first, but turned out to be a sensational bean that was good in everything from stew to salad.  After 20 hours of soaking, many were still small and hard.  They took a long time to cook, but eventually, almost all of them got soft, plump, and very creamy.  Only a few burst and a few remained slightly chalky.  After sitting in the fridge overnight, the texture evened out and they were all good. I used them in a salad with sardines and in a lamb stew.  I think I actually prefer them to borlotti because of their thinner skins. A bit of the pretty speckling stayed on even after cooking.

Eye of the Goat
This one had many attributes similar to good mother stallard, but I prefer good mother stallard.

Yellow Eye
This one produced a very starchy broth (because some beans started to burst by the time all the beans were cooked).  Good for very rustic applications like thick and creamy soups and stews and baked beans.  

Ayocote Blanco
Very large slightly flat white beans that are dense and creamy. Somewhat thick skins, but very resilient and these beans don't burst easily.  Not the best bean for a salad, but fantastic in a stew (I used them in a mushroom stew that was addictive).  This is a bean with a huge personality.  I am sure it would be lovely with meat, but it might be a shame to obscure it.  About the same cooking time as chickpeas (about 2 hrs).

July 18, 2014 update -- tried more varieties

Vallarta
Small, light brown, creamy.  Similar to Yellow Indian Woman, but more savory than sweet.  Cooks very evenly.  Similar in flavor to Mayacoba, but I prefer the slightly bigger size of Mayacoba.

Nov 11, 2014 update -- tried more varieties

Alubia Blanca
Small, white, creamy.  Similar to Navy, but better.  Cooks very evenly.  Perfect for salads and soups.

9 comments:

Kari said...

That's it, I've had their page bookmarked for months and I'm finally going to place an order. This is a great time of year to cook beans (polar vortex and all) and I'm getting bored with the same old selections from my food co-op's bulk bins. Thanks for the review!

bkida said...

I tend to get into a "busy rut" and I almost ignored this. I'm glad I didn't. No beans about it, I learned a ton just from reading the summary. Now I need to place my order and start experimenting! Thanks for posting!

Anonymous said...

You've got to try the Good Mother Stallard, it will change your world, they're so good. With the bigger beans, i Tried brining them and then baking them in the oven. They turned out amazing!

Helen Rennie said...

Thanks so much for Good Mother Stallard recommendation. I'll add it to my list for the next order. I agree about brining. I brine all my beans. It's not always necessary, but never hurts. The only time I don't brine is if I am using the beans for dessert. Though I am sure a week brine (about 1.5%) would be fine. Usually, I use 3%.

M. Cassie Goodwin said...

I have unpredictable bean results. I soak overnight but they still tend to stay hard like tiny rocks when I cook them, even if I cook them for hours longer than the recipe tells me I should need to. Any tips? I love beans! I'd love to try the fancy ones, but I can't justify the price for them when beans just don't work 2/3 of the time.

Helen Rennie said...

Here is my last post on how to cook beans.

I have learned much more about cooking beans since I wrote that post, and will eventually do an update, but here is the gist. If you are new to cooking beans, avoid difficult varieties (white beans, particularly lima) burst like crazy. Also be prepared that some beans take hours to cook even after a pre-soak. Using a pressure cooker makes life a lot faster and easier. I find that they cook more evenly and most varieties are done in 15 minutes (which would be an hour under normal conditions). If you tell me what variety you are cooking, I can probably help more. Each type has its own peculiarity. If you want something extremely easy to cook, try Yellow Indian Woman from Rancho Gordo.

I hear you about buying expensive beans before knowing how to cook them. Before ordering Rancho Gordo, I bought a pressure cooker and about 10 Lb of goya cannellini. With lots of testing I developed a method that worked fairly reliably and that's when I tried Rancho Gordo beans. Even with that 1 variety (large lima) gave me trouble. Last piece of advice to to realize to ignore the timing in recipes.

Also, make sure you pick through your beans after an overnight soak. Drop them by handfuls onto a plate. They should make a hollow sound. Remove any that make a "ding" sound. if they haven't softened during a presoak, they won't during cooking either.

Sorry about so much rambling advice. I have on my to-do list to organize my thoughts on beans and make a video. Just have been swamped with classes lately.

Anonymous said...

I bought the Sangro de Toro and other varietiies months ago, and just yesterday decided to try them. I pre-soaked 1cup of beans in cold water (no salt) overnight, and cooked them today in my 3qt. Crock pot with sautéed onion, celery, green bell pepper, Mexican oregano from Rancho Gordo, and Mexican seasoning from Spice Hunter. 2 hours on high, then reduced to low for another 5 hours before adding salt, rice or other ingredients. 2 cups liquid was enough until I added quick cooking brown rice; then I added a bit more.

Steve Sando said...

Thanks for such a complete review of our beans! Some people really get what we're doing and it's a real kick to be work and be appreciated. I'm old enough to know that doesn't always happen. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I love these beans; I joined their club and get a shipment every few months. It's so much fun, like Christmas, to see what arrived. I'm vegan and eat beans almost every day, so I appreciate all the different varieties that I can't get at my local store. We even stopped in San Francisco, primarily to get some beans to bring home, when we were in California last summer.