Tasty, nourishing and deeply satisfying – baked beans take a long time but the result is exceptional.
There’s no denying it. Winter has its icy talons in us now, and the only response is to get the fire going, grab a cat and a good book, while seriously delicious comfort food cooks away.
Not much can beat homemade baked beans, made the old-fashioned way. These are exceptional, with a full, smoky flavour and a surprising hint of liquorice. More than this, they are hearty.
Good things take time, and time is important when making this dish, as in, you’ve got to start early. They need to be soaked overnight first, and take six hours’ slow baking, but that’s what rainy, lazy weekends are all about.
Meet the Chief Bean Man
And this makes a huge amount of beans, enough to keep a small hoard of cowboys happy for days.
I first tasted proper baked beans in downtown Boston, in the famous Durgin-Park restaurant, a centuries old eating place. It was fabulous sitting in a booth and just watching staff serve up clam chowders, Indian puddings, broiled lobsters and Boston baked beans – a landmark since 1824. (Update – sad to hear this wonderful institution closed on 12 January 2019.)
They take their beans very seriously indeed. Made in ancient stone crocks, they have an official Chief Bean Man, who prepares it all to a strict ritual. They were fabulous and since our return, I’ve made the dish, slightly adapted, most winters.
The Chief Bean Man warns it’s necessary to keep the beans moist once they are baking – but not to add too much water at a time. I check on ours hourly and add small amounts from time to time. I suspect these could be made in a slow cooker, so be prepared to experiment.
The biggest trick is not to stir the beans, at all, ever. This will make them go all mushy and annoy the Chief Bean Man. Just check the water and the clock. And enjoy the hearty smell while you sit in front of the fire, stroking the cat.
Serve with mashed spud and maybe a salad. Or with crusty bread. Beer is good, too.
Serves up to 10 portions, but this can easily be halved.
The original recipe called for molasses; which here in New Zealand goes by the name of treacle. Our molasses is stronger, darker and more bitter.
1 kg haricot beans
1 tsp baking soda
500g bacon bones
1 onion, peeled but not chopped
8 tbsp sugar
2/3 cup treacle
2 tsp English mustard
4 tsp salt
► Soak beans overnight in a large bowl – use plenty of water because they expand.
► The next day, preheat oven to 150ºC. Drain beans and return to pot and cover with fresh, hot water. Add the baking soda and parboil for 10 minutes. Watch like a hawk – they will froth up and boil over if allowed.
► Rinse well with cold water.
► Layer the bacon bones on the bottom of a large, ovenproof pot. Add the whole onion. Cover with beans.
► Mix together all other ingredients with enough hot water to just cover the beans.
► Cook in oven for six hours. Do not stir.
► Before serving, pull meat off bones and return meat to the pot.
In memory of Durgin-Park, closed after almost 200 years.
- We have heaps of recipes, all tried in our very own Gordonton kitchen. Click here for slow cooked, delicious beef cheeks.