Beans That Taste Like Beef: Sean Brock Explains The Wonderful Leather Britches

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The food world is full of colorful terminology. Here's one to boost your Southern IQ: "leather britches," which Lowcountry emissary Sean Brock describes as "a perfect example of how unique the cuisine is" in the Appalachian mountains where he grew up. "You say that to someone, and they're like, 'What the hell did you just say?'"

Just to be clear: he's not talking about shiny pants.

Back in June, Brock dropped by the Food Republic test kitchen to cook and chat about Southern cuisine. We asked him about his family's signature dishes and he brought up this "really cool" technique of preparing beans particularly, the greasy beans that are indigenous to his native Southwestern Virginia. "It's called 'leather britches,'" he says.

Finding no reference to this fashionably termed preparation in the index to Brock's new cookbook, Heritage, we decided to publish the chef's verbal methodology here:

"You take these beans out of the field and you snap them. You sit on the porch and do that, you tell stories and jokes. And then you take a needle and thread and thread them up just like you would popcorn for the Christmas tree. Then you hang them above the hearth, you hang 'em above the wood-burning stove, you hang them above the fire. And you allow them to dry for several days. That allows you to preserve them for the winter."

As decorative as it might be to have strings of beans hanging throughout your home, the real payoff comes when it's time to cook them, Brock says.

"You put a bit of fat in the pressure cooker and you'd throw those beans in with a little bit of water," he says. "What happens is, the umami that forms from the dehydration process and then the smoke from the fire, makes those beans taste like roast beef, makes it taste like a pot roast."

Beans that taste like beef? Suddenly, the whole beans and cornbread routine doesn't sound quite so meager.

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