#InstantPot Navy Bean & Ham Soup

Thursday, October 03, 2019

When I was a kid you couldn't pay me to eat beans. It pains me to think of all the good country cooking I probably missed out on, but at least I can say I know better now. My dad taught me how to make navy bean soup in the slow cooker, usually with a ham bone leftover from Thanksgiving or Christmas. If my memory serves me correctly, he sometimes adds a can of tomatoes to his, so that's one variation you could consider here. I've adapted the process to use an Instant Pot because pressure cookers cut the cooking time by more than half. I do soak my beans overnight when I can remember to do so, but the beauty of pressure cooking is that you don't have to. Just note the differences in cooking times in the instructions below. This recipe works best with ham on the bone - after all, the bone adds so much flavor to the broth. You should definitely plan to make navy bean soup as a bonus meal the next time you cook a spiral ham, but if the craving strikes any other time simply pick up something from the meat counter like smoked ham hocks or shanks. I went with smoked ham shanks this time and loved the extra depth of flavor the smoke adds. This is a super simple recipe and as much I love to jazz things up, it truly doesn't need any fancy touches. Serve with skillet cornbread for a real treat.

#InstantPot Navy Bean & Ham Soup

1 lb dried navy beans
2 tbsp Kosher salt (optional - for soaking beans), or to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
4 cloves garlic, grated or minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 to 2 lb ham bone, smoked ham hock, or smoked ham shank
6 cups water
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 sprig of rosemary, destemmed and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour, with an optional overnight soak
Yield: Serves 6 to 8
Special Equipment: InstantPot or other electric pressure cooker

If you can remember to do so, soaking your beans shortens the cook time. Some people say it also makes the beans easier to digest but I haven't personally noticed a difference with navy beans. Rinse off the dried beans and place them in a large bowl. Cover with water by a few inches, then stir in the tablespoon of Kosher salt to dissolve. Let that sit for eight to twelve hours prior to cooking. When you're ready to cook, drain the beans and rinse before using.

(By the way - here's a quick read on why you should salt your beans when soaking!)

Turn your Instant Pot on and activate the sauté function on high heat. Once the pot is hot, add the olive oil and cook the onions, carrots, and celery for a few minutes to soften. Stir in the garlic, crushed red pepper, smoked paprika, and black pepper. Cook for another minute until fragrant.

Place the ham bone in the pot and pour in the six cups of water. Stir in the herbs and drop in the bay leaf.

Please note that no salt is added at this point. Ham is already very salty and you may not even need much in the end. Lock the Instant Pot lid into place and select the high-pressure cooking function, for 10 minutes. Press Start and let it do its thing. This is giving the ham broth some extra time to develop without having to overcook the beans. 

After ten minutes is up, press the quick release button to let the steam out of the Instant Pot. Once you can safely open the lid, add your soaked navy beans to the broth. Lock the lid back into place. Select high pressure and set the timer for 15 minutes. Once the pressure cooking phase has finished, allow for 15 minutes of natural steam release prior to opening the lid.

For unsoaked beans: If you did not soak your dried beans, you can cook them along with the ham from the beginning. Set the timer for 25 minutes on high pressure. Once the pressure cooking phase has finished, allow for 15 minutes of natural steam release prior to opening the lid.

There is always some degree of guesswork with beans. Sometimes they'll need a little more cooking time, sometimes a little less. The pressure cooking times given are on the conservative side because in my experience it's better to have to simmer beans a little longer than for them to be totally overcooked. (Not that it's a complete loss for a soup - you'll just end up with more of a creamy situation.) 

In other words - check the beans for doneness and determine if they're good to go or need to cook longer. If you're way off and the beans are still hard, you can always put the lid back on and do another 5 minutes on high-pressure. Generally if the beans are just shy of being done, I've found that using the sauté function on medium is sufficient to simmer the soup a bit longer. The beans should finish creamy, tender, and mostly holding their shape - if some are blown out no big deal.

Remove the bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper if needed. The very last thing to do is stir in the vinegar, which helps to wake up the flavors. Let the soup simmer for five minutes or so before serving. It will continue to get starchier and creamier as it sits.

Be sure to get small chunks of ham in each bowl when serving, that's always the best part. I hope you enjoy your bowl of navy bean soup as much as I do! It's one of the most comforting meals for chilly days, and the Instant Pot makes it that much easier to cook.

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