Bean soup is on the menu in the U.S. Senate’s restaurant every day.
No one is exactly sure why this tradition started, but since 1903, U.S. Senate bean soup has been served in the Senate dining room every day - the only mandatory recipe on the menu.
The only exception, according to Senator Elizabeth Dole, as told to her by her husband, Bob Dole, was in 1943, during World War II rationing. It only happened for one day, and then bean soup was back on the menu.
Senate bean soup a simple recipe - navy beans, ham hocks (or ham and a hambone), onions sauteed in butter, and salt and pepper. “The Senators like their soup straightforward” said Don Perez, the Senate dining room’s executive chef back in 2003.
I’m taking a couple of liberties with the soup - Chef Perez admitted he adds a little garlic - and a recipe attributed to Senator Fred Dubois in 1903 includes mashed potatoes and parsley. I’m skipping the potatoes, but the parsley adds a splash of color that I can’t pass up.
So, why bean soup? Because I will have a ham bone and leftover ham from Easter dinner. (I’m notorious with my in-laws for taking bones home with me from family dinners.) This recipe was invented to use up leftover ham. (Well, I don't know that for sure...but it looks like what the Senate's chef would do the day after serving ham.) That said…the pictures have a (huge) smoked ham hock from my butcher. Don’t be afraid to use leftover ham; this recipe was made for it.
Recipe: Pressure Cooker Senate Bean Soup
Adapted from: Senate Bean Soup (via Senate.gov)
Video: Pressure Cooker Senate Bean Soup (1:47)
Pressure Cooker Senate Bean Soup - Time Lapse [YouTube.com]
- 6 quart or larger pressure cooker (I love my Instant Pot Electric PC)
Pressure Cooker Senate Bean Soup recipe. It doesn't get more American than bean soup from the United States Senate lunchroom.
- 1 pound dried navy beans, sorted and rinsed
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion, cut into ½ inch dice
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 ½ pounds smoked ham hocks (or a hambone and some leftover ham)
- 8 cups water
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
- Minced parsley for garnish
- Sort and rinse the beans: Sort the navy beans, removing broken beans, stones, or dirt clods. Rinse the beans and set aside.
- Saute the aromatics: Heat the butter in the pressure cooker pot over medium-high heat until it stops foaming. Add the onion, garlic, and ½ teaspoon salt. Saute until the onions are softened and browning around the edges, about 8 minutes.
- Pressure cook the beans: Drain the navy beans, rinse, and add to the pressure cooker. Set the ham hocks on top of the beans, then pour the water over everything. Lock the lid on the pressure cooker, and cook at high pressure for 30 minutes in an electric PC, or 26 minutes in a stovetop PC. Let the pressure release naturally, about 20 minutes. Remove the lid carefully, opening away from you - even when it’s not under pressure, the steam in the cooker is very hot.
- Shred the ham hock, season, and serve: Remove the ham hock from the pot with a slotted spoon or tongs, and set aside to cool. Ladle 2 cups of beans into a blender and puree the beans, then stir back into the pot. (I use my stick blender for this step.) When the ham is cool enough to handle, shred it, then stir the ham back into the pot. Stir in the fresh ground black pepper. Now, taste the soup, and add salt until the soup tastes sweet and full of body, and you can just feel the taste of salt on the tip of your tongue. (I needed 2 teaspoons of kosher salt to get the taste I wanted.) Serve with a sprinkle of minced parsley on each bowl.
- Want to speed up the cooking time of the recipe? Soak the beans.
- Overnight soak: Sort the navy beans, removing broken beans, stones, or dirt clods. Rinse the beans and put them in a large container with the salt. Cover with 2 quarts water. Let the beans soak for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
- Quick Pressure soak: Sort the navy beans, removing broken beans, stones, or dirt clods. Rinse the beans, put them in the pressure cooker pot, add the salt, and cover with 2 quarts water. Lock the lid, bring the pressure cooker up to high pressure, and cook for 3 minutes at high pressure (stovetop or electric PC). Let the pressure come down naturally (about 20 minutes - there’s a lot of water to cool down), then drain and rinse the beans.
- Cooking soaked beans: With soaked beans, change the cooking time to 12 minutes at high pressure in an electric PC, or 10 minutes in a stovetop PC. Let the pressure release naturally, about 20 minutes.
- Look for meaty ham hocks, if you can - the ones in the video I shot were from the end of the hock, and didn't have much meat on them. Larger hocks are usually meatier, so if you have an option, get big hocks instead of small ones.
- Please, do not forget to season to taste at the end! Soup tastes bland and flat without added salt. Don’t worry if it seems like a lot of salt - you’re still adding a lot less salt than you’d get in canned beans.
- 6 quart or larger pressure cooker (I love my Instant Pot electric pressure cooker)
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 45 minutes
- Category: Sunday Dinner
- Method: Pressure Cooker
- Cuisine: American
- Senate Bean Soup Ladles Up Tradition for 100 Years Jennifer Frey, Washington Post (via OrlandoSentinel.com)
- Senate Bean Soup (via Senate.gov)
What do you think?
Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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