Slow cooker alubias rojas con sacramentos

We fell in love with this dish while on holiday in Northern Spain this summer, but it’s the kind of cooking that’s even more welcome in autumn and winter.

I’ve had beans on the brain since listening to the excellent two-part episode of Radio 4’s The Food Programme earlier this year. We’d already booked our trip to Spain at that point, so I made it my mission to seek out pulses on restaurant menus and return home with plenty of legume souvenirs. As you can see, we didn’t do too badly!

We were staying in La Rioja, so I googled some local legume producers. August is usually holiday time in those parts, so the businesses themselves turned out to be closed, but on a hunch, I looked for the closest village shop to each producer and there were the beans, in all their glory. If you happen to be in the area, check out Legumbres Banares in Banos de Rioja, and El Dico in Briones.

Alubias rojas con sacramentos is a dish that we enjoyed in a restaurant called Asador Jose Mari in the tiny village of Rivas de Tereso. The restaurant is best known for lamb chops grilled over vine prunings, but our favourite dishes were the alubias rojas and a dish of white beans cooked with leeks and tiny prawns.

I’ve looked up lots of traditional versions of this recipe and distilled and adapted them for the slow cooker, which is a good economical way to do it. We brought back cooking chorizo, morcilla, dried peppers and tocino from Spain, but you can find excellent versions online from Brindisa or replace with English equivalents like black pudding and streaky bacon.

Slow cooker alubias rojas con sacramentos recipe

Serves 8 – 10

  • 750 g alubias rojas, soaked for 6-8 hours
  • 400 g pork ribs
  • 3 cooking chorizo
  • 225 g cured pork belly, in one piece (tocino is traditional, but streaky bacon or pancetta are fine)
  • 1 bulb of garlic, cloves peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 dried red peppers (choricero or nora are good), torn into strips and stalks and seeds removed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 morcilla, thickly sliced
  • Pickled guindilla peppers, to serve
  1. Drain and rinse the beans until the water runs clear. Put them in a large saucepan and bring to a rolling boil for 2 minutes. Drain the beans and rinse them under cold water until it runs clear.
  2. Put the beans in a large slow cooker (or you can use a large cast iron casserole or lidded earthenware pot if you’d rather use the oven). Add the ribs, chorizo, cured pork belly, garlic, bay leaf and dried peppers and mix gently together, then level the surface and pour over enough fresh cold water* to cover by 5cm.
  3. Cover the slow cooker and set it to high (or, if you’re using the oven, cover the dish and cook at 130°C (110° fan) | 250F | gas ½). It’s important to note at this stage that you shouldn’t stir the beans at any point in the cooking process.
  4. It may take 2 or 3 hours for the beans to come to a simmer, but when they do, add 50 ml cold water and turn the slow cooker down to low.
  5. After another two hours, taste the beans – if they hold their shape on the spoon, but melt in your mouth, they’re ready. If not, continue to cook and test again in an hour. They could take anywhere between 2 hours and 4 hours from when they start to simmer, but remember not to sir! If the pot raises above the gentlest simmer at any point, add another 50 ml cold water to bring the temperature down.
  6. When the beans are ready, make sure the seasoning is just right (though all that cured pork should go some way to solving that). Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the morcilla slices until crisp on the outside and hot all the way through, then add to the pot.
  7. I like to pick out the garlic cloves, mash them to a paste with a fork, then fold the puree very gently through the beans.
  8. It is traditional to serve the meat and beans as separate courses, though I prefer to serve everything together. Divide the morcilla between warm bowls, then fish the chorizo, tocino and ribs out of the beans, slice them and divide between the bowls. Ladle over the beans and serve with pickled guindillas and perhaps some steamed cabbage or a side salad, if you’re not having a separate vegetable course.

If you prefer, you can cook the beans a day or two before and store them in the fridge. This has the added benefit of being able to remove some solidified fat, if you’re into that sort of thing. Reheat in the slow cooker (or a low oven) until piping hot throughout before serving (though bear in mind this may take a couple of hours as there’s such a large volume). The flavour is even better after a reheat or two!

* If you live in a hard water area, some Spanish recipes suggest using mineral water or rainwater, though maybe boil it first if you decide to dip into the water butt?!

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