The pinquito bean, which is grown exclusively along the Central Coast of California, is known mainly for its mandatory presence in Santa Maria BBQ. Just as the South has shrimp and grits, the Brits have fish and chips, the Irish have corned beef and cabbage, we have tri-tip and pinquito beans (doesn’t have the same ring to it, though, does it?). The origins of this little bean are a bit hazy. Some say the bean was a gift from a Mexican vaquero to Swiss-Italian farmers, who were early settlers in the area, growing beans and other crops for the U.S. government in the mid-1800’s. Others say the bean was brought here by a lady who migrated from Europe. And yet others say the beans are native to the Central Coast, eaten here for as long as anyone can remember. No matter the history, pinquitos are plump, sweet, and delicious beans that we use whenever we can.
beans beans beans.
The name pinquito is a bastardized Spanglish invention, playing off the word poquito, meaning “little” and pink, meaning pink. Little pink beans. Creative. The bean requires the heat-and-fog interplay of the Santa Maria Valley, and thrives especially during hot summers. Because they are grown only by local small-scale farmers, you can be fairly certain that the beans you get in stores around here (Tri-County Produce if you live in SB) are much fresher than normal bulk beans, which often sit around in warehouses and on inventory shelves for far too long.
We’re hoping to explore the possible uses of the pinquito bean literally unlike anyone has before. The main reasons soy beans are made into so many different products in Asian cooking is because they grow readily and they are anti-nutritious when not fermented. So those cultures figured out all sorts of applications for this abundant food. Soy sauce, tamari, natto, tempeh, tofu, kinako (roasted soybean flour), cheonggukjang (don’t even know what that is but found it on Wikipedia)…the list is endless. There’s no reason, however, that we can’t bring out similar flavors from other beans and legumes. So we’ve begun experimenting with our local bean. Using Japanese koji, we recently fermented our seasoned beans for about three weeks to make a pinquito miso paste. We’ve ended up with something that is surprisingly sweet, super savory, and unlike anything we’ve ever tasted. We mix that in with our homemade cultured butter, ending up with what some might describe as the best thing ever.