Bean There, Ate That

29 May

Corny! Yes, that was a very corny title I threw up there. But that’s the thing about baked beans — they have to be about the least sexy sidedish on the planet. At least, this is what’s happened to them over the years, as a long-cooked, honest, pot o’ beans morphed into a can of Heinz fwopped into a microwaveable bowl and, ding, ready! Gargh.

But my husband loves them. Loves them! And is always prodding me to buy cans of the gooey, congealed, sweet sacrilege, to the point that my inner prickly food fiend screams, “FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, NO! OVER MY DEAD, BEAN-SPLATTERED BODY WILL I SERVE THAT!” Sigh. Even if there’s a certain retro-cool Don Draper-ness potentially going on with them now. Remember that whole Rolling Stones/Baked Beans thing that happened this season? Well, it’s not so far away from reality–yup, that’s Roger Daltry to the right, wading in a pile of Heinz beans and hugging an enormous can of them. The best part about that photo is he looks utterly insane. But how else would you look if you were sitting in beans? Exactly the same, that’s how.

Anyway…

We decided to lay low this Memorial Day Weekend for myriad reasons, and had a little cook-out one night with family and a couple of close friends. As per usual, when I was heading out to the store, Dan said, “Let’s have baked beans!” Which I promptly ignored and didn’t buy (mean), and then felt bad about it (sucker).

As luck would have it, my kitchen-happy friend and former book-publishing colleague Renee Wilmeth had posted a recipe for her mom’s baked bean recipe on Facebook yesterday, and I happened to catch it. She’d tweaked it with her own very good updated twists — smoked sea salt being the kicker that makes this recipe so great, and which makes me kind of want to take a cue from Daltry, fill a tub with them, and roll around in it. (That was too much sharing, wasn’t it? Yes. Yes it was.)

I had all the ingredients on hand (yippie!), which, with the exception of the smoked sea salt, aren’t super complicated (and you could do without that — kosher salt would do just fine, and it wouldn’t ruin the recipe a lick). Also, full disclosure:  I used turkey bacon. Stop judging. I had it on hand because, ugh, I love crispy things and BLTs and we’re trying to cut down just a tiny, tiny bit around here, so sue me. I am not sorry!

The most complicated thing about making it is… having time. But once you throw them in the oven, you can pretty much forget about them. Never mind the substitutes or the slow-cookin’ lazy factor, though; just make these because they are uh-mazing. They were happily and, dare I say, greedily spooned up by a few family members who are, um, usually super-duper sniffy, picky eaters. Ha! I win! Cha-cha-cha.

Renee Wilmeth & Her Mom’s Bodacious Baked Beans

1 lb small white beans (navy beans or similar)
1 white onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ lb bacon, chopped, plus another 3-4 strips for the top of the beans (I didn’t do this for obvious reasons)
1-2 tablespoons, mustard (Renee’s mom used yellow; she uses Guildan’s; I used Dijon)
1.5 teaspoons smoked salt (I used 2, because I know I like just a little extra salty-salty)
1/3 cup molasses, mild or blackstrap
½ cup packed brown sugar
9 cups water
1-2 teaspoons cider vinegar

So says Renee: “In a large dutch oven, fry the bacon until it’s cooked but not crispy. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until it’s all soft.  Then add molasses, mustard, beans, salt, water and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer on the stovetop then pop into 300 degree oven.  [NOTE: I went up to 325 because I find my oven runs a little cool.]

“Cook beans for 4-5 hours with lid on.  Then add strips of bacon, take lid off, and cook in oven for another 2 hours to thicken sauce.”

If you need to adjust the water during the ‘lid on’ phase, go for it. Taste every now and again for seasonings along the way and tool with that, too, if you like — I found all of it just fine as instructed.

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2 Responses to “Bean There, Ate That”

  1. Jill~a SaucyCook June 5, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Alright, alright! My husband sent you didn’t he? Oh right, I’m at your place! Amy Sherman sent me and she is right you are hysterical. But the really funny part is that I am married to a Brit who actually came with cans of baked beans! Seriously and they eat them for friggin breakfast over there-no wonder we left and started our own damn country!! To make matters worse, my neighbor made baked beans Sunday for a grad party for her son. I tried them. They were good. I’m gonna have to try yours!!

    • hungercompass June 9, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

      You and I were typing about this on Twitter, Jill, but Italians love beans, too — and of course there are more than a few legume-happy countries in the world. Actually, I think maybe it’s harder to find those that aren’t? I’m working on a story about matcha tea right now, and was served a cup with a sweet bean paste 2 days ago. So… Japan, Ethiopia, Italy, England, Ireland, Scotland, pretty much the entire of the Middle East, the U.S., France — the thing is, I kinda love beans, too. I lived on chickpeas in my poor-first-apartment days, and still love them. This recipe was really fun to make and the anticipation of “what’s gonna happen??!” was a big part of that.

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