Baked beans are one of those things that pretty much everyone is familiar with, though the name is a bit of a misnomer, as the beans (usually haricot beans, little white beans known as navy beans in the US, despite being neither blue nor associated with the Village People but due to their being highly nutritious & having a long storage life, which made them a popular foodstuff in the US Navy) are usually stewed rather than baked. Baked beans come from the French peasant dish Cassoulet, a slow cooked stew of white beans and pork. In Brazil these bean stews are called feijoada, in Spain fabada, in Greece fasolada.
In the US baked beans are made with pork rind, maple syrup, offcuts of barbecued meats or molasses, depending on the region. Boston baked beans are traditionally made with molasses & pork, so are sweet, but rich & complex, rather than sugary. Here in the UK baked beans just means beans in tomato sauce in a can. They are cheap and available everywhere from Fortnum & Mason to the smallest corner shop. So why make your own?
Well, because its a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon, it tastes a hundred times better than the stuff in tins and sometimes its nice to spend the afternoon pottering around the kitchen being bloody minded enough to spend the best half of the day making what is essentially the ultimate in fast food!
I used pinto beans in this recipe, because I'm a maverick like that. You can use any beans you fancy, and if their not white, ninjas from the Society of Historically Accurate Foods will not sneak into your house at night and steal all your teaspoons.
Boston Baked Beans
400g dried white beans such as haricot, cannellini or butter beans(or 3 400g tins - don't drain them though!)
125ml molasses (you can use black treacle if you can't get molasses)
2 tsp yellow mustard powder
2 tbs tomato puree
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
salt & pepper
If using dried beans, soak in plenty of water overnight. Drain, place in a large saucepan & cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil & cook 10 minutes before reducing the heat. Simmer until tender (sorry to be vague, but cooking times for beans varies depending on age & size) & set to one side. Don't drain, you'll need some of the cooking liquid.
Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/G2.
Tip the beans into a large ovenproof dish, reserving the cooking/can liquid. Stir in the rest of the ingredients (if you are using tinned beans you wont need any salt. If using dried beans, 1 tsp salt should do the job). Pour over just enough cooking/can liquid to cover the beans & cover with foil. Place in the oven and bake for 3 hours. Yes, 3 hours. Check every hour in case they need topping up with water.
Remove from oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Serve any way you fancy, though I recommend cornbread or sourdough toast.
Next time baked beans - Mexican Style!