making baked beans
I've never made baked beans, and I've only eaten them in cafeterias. I know this is a very american thing, so I'd like to try make them myself, given the weather and my gorgeous new le Creuset french oven (thanks to everyone who encouraged the purchase - got it at Broadway Panhandler Fall Sale, 2 3/4 qu. oval oven in cherry red).
Firstly, are there as many versions of baked beans as there are, well, americans? Does anyone feel like sharing their particular, amazing version with the newbie? I think I'd enjoy something savoury, rather than something spicy or terribly sweet.
I also wanted to gauge chowhound opinions on pork vs no pork. Whilst I'd like to try a version using a pork rind (or whatever pork thing it is that is supposed to add flavour to beans), I'm also interested in pork-free versions, as two of my four housemates don't eat pork products.
I think there might have been a link to beans a while ago, but I can't find it. It's one of the problems of the increasing popularity of the board - topics get rolled onto older boards very quickly!
Thanks in advance.
These are the baked beans of my youth. Serve them up with some steamed brown bread and a hot dog or sausage and you'll make any New Englander swoon. The salt pork is a requisite item that can't be left out, by the way.
Boston Baked Beans
2 C small white beans
1 tsp salt
1/4 lb salt pork
3 tsp dry mustard (buy a new box)
5 TBSP light brown sugar
4 TBSP molasses
Wash the beans and soak them overnight. Drain the soaking liquid from the beans. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut off a third of the salt pork and place it into the bottom of the bean pot, rind on the bottom. Put the beans on top. Blend the mustard, brown sugar, salt, and molasses with enough warm water to cover the beans by about an inch. Cut several slices into the not-rind side of the remaining salt pork and place it on top of the beans, rind side down. Cover and bake for six hours, adding water as necessary. The beans should always be somewhat wet for the first four hours, but allow them to dry out to somewhat juicy for the last two. For the last hour of baking take the cover off to allow the salt pork to crisp. Taste and correct for seasoning.
There are two basic sweetener styles in New England:
1. Molasses: from the old Triangle Trade, common along the coast, hence Boston Baked Beans.
2. Maple syrup: used in the interior, particularly in the North Country. Also favored by the abolitionist-minded due to the Triangle trade associations with molasses and sugar.
As for beans, most recipes assume navy beans or small pea beans.
Up in Maine, though, there can be fierce contests between those favoring yellow-eyes versus Jacob's cattle beans. The most commonly available yellow-eye (or Calypso) type bean is Steuben yellow eye. I myself love molasses face beans, which are the ur-type of yellow-eye and are considered to have been the original bean for baked beans in New England. They are wonderful beans.
(You see, baking beans is not really all about the flavorings; it really still should be fundamentally about the beans....)
Now, as for meat, in olden days pickled pork was a handy staple, which morphed into salt pork (which should be, but rarely is these days, more pork than fat, unlike streak-o-lean). And then some folks just say to hell with that and use bacon.
As for me, I now make a hybrid variation of Maine baked beans: I use molasses face beans, maple syrup (about 3/8 cup per pound of dry beans) and a bit of brown sugar, a peeled whole onion (which is removed after baking) and double smoked bacon (left in one or two chunks). Some dry mustard, salt (do not forget salt or your beans will taste flat; salt will not toughen the already-parboiled beans). I got laughs in a thread a long time ago suggesting a bit of cider vinegar, cognac and worstershire sauce -- definitely not authentic -- but don't knock it till you try it; depends on my mood. You can adjust flavorings when the beans are near completely baked.
Key things about method:
1. The pot. A ceramic pot that tapers towards the top really works much better than other types of pots. The ceramic is often uneven in thickness, and the top usually does not form a tight seal, and those facts plus the tapering helps evenly condense vapors back into the beans but with some very gradual evaporation towards the end of cooking. I have a medium 2.5 quart bean pot for making 1 pound dry beans, and a larger ceramic pot from Portugal for making 2 lbs of dry beans. Both work infinitely better than my other pots (All Clad, Le Crueset, et cet.).
2. The heat: SLOW and LONG. That is 250F, for 8-12 hours (depending on whether you are making 1-2 lbs of beans). Do not go above 300F, and you will find the differences in quality between 250F (fantastic) and 300F (OK) noticeable. Beans were traditionally cooked in bread baking ovens after the bakers were done baking bread for the day, overnight as the walls of the oven gradually cooled. This is still done in parts of New England on Saturdays (there is one bakery in East Boston that comes to mind, but there used to be many many more). You can remove the top of the pot for the last hour or so of baking.
3. Btw, the classic test of doneness for the parboiling of the beans before baking is that they are ready when you can separate the skin with a sharp blow from your lips. Undercooking and overcooking the beans in the parboiling stage are common errors; beans vary in age, and the times it takes for them to cook vary accordingly, recipes notwithstanding.
4. Adding a pinch of baking soda (not baking powder) to the parboiling beans will help speed the process (alkalinity helps soften the skins.)
I like to do this over a cold night, and wake up to baked beans for breakfast. Baked beans are great for a cold winter morning's breakfast, especially after shovelling snow. The smell of the house is beyond compare.
Madeleine Kamman considers New England baked beans one of the glories of world cuisine, btw....