Sort through the beans and remove any foreign objects, like small stones.
Rinse the beans, add them to a large pot or bowl and cover with 3-4 cups of water; let the beans soak overnight. Drain and rinse the beans, they’re now ready to cook.
For a quicker soaking method, sort and rinse as above. Add the beans and 6 cups of water to a large pot. Bring the water to a boil; cook the beans for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover and set aside for one hour. Drain and rinse the beans, they’re now ready to cook. I use the quick soak method and it has worked well so far.
While the beans soak prepare the sofrito: Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomato paste, garlic, salt, oregano, cumin and black pepper, stir well to combine. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove the skillet from the heat.
Add the beans, 10 cups of water, the smoked meat, the prepared sofrito and the chicken base (if using) to a large pot, stir well to combine. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Uncover the beans, remove the smoked ham and let cool. Cover the beans and continue cooking. When the smoked pork is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bone. Discard the bones, and any fatty pieces. Chop the meat into bite sized pieces and return it to the pot.
Continue to cook the beans for another 15-20 minutes. Taste the beans, if they're still firm, cover the pot and continue cooking for 30 minutes. Try them again.
When the beans are soft, uncover the pot to allow the liquid to thicken. This process could take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on how much liquid is in the pot and how thick you want them. Keep the beans at a simmer, raise the heat a bit if necessary, stirring occasionally.
Taste the red beans; add salt and pepper to taste, if needed.
The cooking time for the beans will vary depending on their freshness. When cooking beans, follow the recipe cooking times, check the beans by tasting one or two, and then add half an hour at a time until they’re done.Smoked meat is typically salty. To control the salt in the finished dish, rinse the smoked meat under cold water before adding it to the pot.I add a little bit of chicken base to the red beans for extra flavor, but they turn out great without it too. If you have some in the refrigerator, add it in.The beans will thicken as they cook. If they're not as thick as you’d like, remove about a cup of beans with a strainer and mash them with a fork. Add the mashed beans back into the pot, stir and cook a few minutes longer, this should do the trick.Red beans make great leftovers, actually, some claim they taste better the next day. To reheat, loosen the beans with a little bit of water or chicken broth, stir, heat and enjoy.