Plain navy beans are cooked slowly as they are flavored by a smoked ham hock in this version of Senate Bean Soup.
By tradition, this soup has been available on the menu of the U.S. Senate restaurant continuously since the early twentieth century. Several stories exist as to its origin, none corroborated, and reasons for its persistence are similarly unclear. But its presence has now worked into minor fame—with the accompanying consumer demand.
The current and “official” recipe calls for nothing more than beans, onion and a smoked ham hock. The porcine hock is that portion of the leg just above the foot or ankle, and smoked versions perfume the beans over a long, slow simmer. Mostly consisting of fat, bone and connective tissue, not much meat can be salvaged from the cooked hock, perhaps only a couple of ounces.
Onions lightly sautéed in butter finish the cooked beans, which have made their own creamy broth. A newer version of the soup includes cubed ham, potatoes, celery, garlic and parsley, which are not unwelcome additions but bypass the delicious simplicity of the original.
Access to the Senate restaurant is restricted, but the general public can enjoy this soup daily at the Capitol Visitor Center.
Senate Bean Soup
1 ham hock (smoked)
½ yellow onion
1 lb navy beans (dried)
1 T butter
1 Add beans, ham hock, bay leaf and 8 c water to a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2-3 hrs.
2 Chop the onion and sauté in butter until soft, about 5 min. Do not brown.
3 Remove the ham hock and pull off the remaining meat when cool enough to handle.
4 Add the onion and ham to the beans. Season to taste.