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Wednesday 25 September 2013

Sluttishly Savoury: Boston Baked Beans

Sometimes when Mama B and I go on holiday to a nice hotel with delicious food, we find ourselves saying to each other halfway through, "Ooh, I right fancy a plate of beans on toast in front of the telly, don't you?". This inevitably leads to wondering whether or not the Queen ever fancies a plate of beans on toast in front of the telly, and deciding that yes, she probably does. Sometimes we all need some good, wholesome stodge to punctuate the dazzling culinary delight that is our day-to-day lives.

I'd wager that if Queenie does enjoy beans on toast once in a while, those beans would be Boston baked beans. Big chunks of melt-in-your-mouth pork belly, sweet shallots, tender beans, and a sticky, sweetly aromatic sauce make for a dish that puts shop-bought [insert popular baked bean manufacturer's name here] baked beans to shame.

My recipe uses canned beans - gasp - but if you're a stickler for authenticity, use 500g dried beans and soak overnight (for at least 12 hours). I simply couldn't be bothered waiting an extra day to get started on what proved to be a hearty, delicious meal.

Boston Baked Beans (serves 4-6)
You will need:
  • 5-6 small shallots, whole and peeled
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 x 400g cans of beans - I used haricot, black-eyed, cannellini and borlotti (use haricot only if you want to be trad)
  • 500g pork belly, skin scored with a sharp knife, then cut into 5cm chunks 
  • 1 tsp English mustard powder
  • 2 tbsp black treacle
  • 2 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Make it!
  1. Preheat the oven to 120°C/250°F/Gas Mark ½ (ooh, I've never had to write Gas Mark ½ before!).
  2. Find a large casserole dish with a lid - 2.5 litre capacity or bigger is GOOD.
  3. Stud one of the shallots with cloves.
  4. Add everything except the salt to the casserole dish. Top up with hot water so the beans are just covered. Stir well and place in the middle of the oven for about 8 hours (overnight is a good option). Give it a good shoogle midway through cooking if you can, but don't worry if you're, say, sleeping soundly and dreaming of a simpler time when baked beans meant opening a can.
  5. Before serving, turn the oven up to about 240°C/475°F/Gas Mark 9 and take the lid off the casserole dish. Poke about to get most of the meat at the top of the dish, and leave to brown a little in the oven for about 15 minutes. Season to taste, remove the bay leaf and cloves, and serve with - or on top of - crusty bread. 
  • There are a few cooking methods here. I opted for overnight on a very low heat because that suited me and my life. If you have a slow cooker, stick everything on for 6-8 hours on high. If you want to use the oven but can't be bothered with a really s-l-o-w cook, whack the oven up to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 (I know - totally living on the edge, temperature-wise) and cook for about 4 hours. 
  • Crispy cubed pancetta is a lovely addition, and adds a salty depth. Fry about 180g until brown and add to the rest of the mixture before popping in the oven.
  • If you find that your beans are a little watery after the specified cooking time, remember everything will thicken up as it cools (this only works if, like me, you're cooking it in advance of eating it!). If you're serving immediately, pour off any excess liquid into a saucepan and rapidly boil for a while until it thickens. Whisk beurre manié (equal parts butter and flour, kneaded together) into the liquid if it still needs more oomph. 

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