March 05, 2011
I'm really, really ready for winter to be over. I'm ready for spring, and barbecuing.
I've thought about grilling up some burgers for awhile now, and I'll probably do that as soon as I get my grill out for the Spring, but for now I decided I'd try some different types of burgers (more about them in another post), and pan-fry them. Pan-cooked burgers aren't nearly as good as grilled ones - it's no contest, really - but they'd have to do for now. Thinking about burgers also got me thinking about some of my favorite burger sides, including baked beans, and as soon as I had decided it was time to make some burgers, I knew I'd want some beans with them.
I considered making up another batch of my Zesty Baked Beans, but decided instead to go with a more basic bean recipe. I checked out several recipes for maybe the most basic version of baked beans, Boston Baked Beans, and decided to make something along those lines. After studying the recipes I had on hand, I picked out the common features, considered (but mostly rejected) some of the more unusual ingredient options, and tossed in a few of my own touches to make a recipe from which to work.
I knew right away I wanted to start out with dried beans, because boiling them with flavorful ingredients would make them taste great, and they'd still be firm enough when they went into the oven for a long time at a low temperature that they wouldn't be cooked to mush by the time they were ready to serve.
Instead of the traditional salt pork, I used bacon in preparing the beans. Juli and I had noticed a new brand of artisan bacon in the local market, and it looked pretty good, so I used that. It was a good choice, as this applewood bacon had a really nice flavor. I'll be buying that brand again.
In terms of technique, there's nothing particularly unusual about these baked beans. Fry up some bacon, fry up some onions and seasonings in the bacon grease, add the beans, some molasses and brown sugar, some seasonings and water, bring it to a boil, then toss it in the oven to cook for a few hours, cooking it uncovered at the end to thicken and brown the sauce. I did use some ingredients that aren't common to the more traditional recipes, though. These include garlic, a sprig of thyme, a bay leaf and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. I think these additions made for a better pot of beans. Traditionalists would probably disagree, but since I wasn't inviting any traditionalists over, I didn't worry too much about that.
Juli and I both liked the beans quite a bit. They had a rich, smoky flavor, with enough savory elements that the sweetness wasn't overpowering, and the beans themselves were perfectly cooked, neither mushy nor mealy. They went well with the burgers, and this recipe is good enough that I'll likely revisit it when I fire up my grill for the first barbecue of the spring.
Boston-Style Baked Beans
yield = approx. 6 servings
6 ounces thick-sliced bacon, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 medium yellow onion, chopped fine
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound dried small white or navy beans
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
9 cups water
Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse and pick over beans, then set aside.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot, add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has started to render. Stir in the onions and cook until the onions are lightly browned and the bacon well-cooked (but not burnt), about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cayenne and cook 30 seconds.
Add the beans, molasses, sugar, mustard, Worcestershire, thyme, bay leaf, salt and black pepper. Stir to mix, then add and stir in the water. Adjust heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Cover the Dutch oven and put it in the oven.
After two hours, stir the bean mixture and remove the bay leaf and thyme sprig.
Cook another two hours, stir and remove the lid. Continue to bake until the sauce has thickened into deep brown syrup. Remove from oven, let cool 10 minutes or so, then serve.