Everyday Food (April 2011)
A slow-simmered pot of white beans can make for the most satisfying meal. We're talking about that Southern trifecta of white beans, ham hock and a side of cornbread. And we've had beans on the brain lately. As a Mother's Day gift, we just gave the gift of beans to Zach's mom, and ever since we've been drooling from afar as she's described slowly cooking the beans for hours, to be eaten for dinner with just a simple salad as an accompaniment.
But we tend to think of a pot of simmered white beans as a fall and winter dish. If we have a pot of white beans going, it's cold out. If it's warm and we're making beans, they're more likely the maple/ketchup/brown sugar variety. (If you're looking for a more traditional baked beans recipe, the Barefoot Contessa has a very good recipe, though be warned that they require some planning, because they simmer for six to eight hours.)
So that's what drew us to these Beer-Baked White Beans. How would they stand up to the summer potluck variety that we grew up eating? Or to the slow-braised winter dish we sometimes make?
The answer can be summed in one sentence that was uttered after we sat down to eat these beans:
"These are the best beans we've ever made."
These beans -- simmered for several hours with onion, garlic, Dijon and honey, and then finished with vinegar -- are nothing short of spectacular.
That's not to say that this recipe doesn't have some pitfalls. For instance, if you don't like ales, you won't like these beans. For the beer that gets poured over the beans prior to baking, we used Blue Moon (one of the beers suggested by Everyday Food). And although the beans didn't taste like beer, they definitely had a strong citrusy, ale flavor, which we flat-out loved.
As we said, this isn't a quick dish. We started with dried white beans (just the plain, cheap variety from the supermarket) and soaked them overnight. Then there's an additional two and a half hours of cooking as the beans braise in the oven.
But there's so much to love about these beans! In addition to the great, unique ale flavor, there's the bacon. We could rhapsodize about the bacon in this dish all day. We loved how you fry it separately so it's nice and crisp, and then stir it into the beans just before serving. It provides a nice crunch in contrast to the soft beans.
Also, if you think these beans are good the first time you eat them, just wait until the next time you reheat them. They're excellent as leftovers. So excellent, in fact, that you may want to make a double batch if you have the pots to do it.
Traditional baked beans may have their place as an accompaniment to grilled burgers, ribs and chicken. But these beans deserve a shot. Maybe even at your Memorial Day gathering.
Happy weekend! And happy cooking.
Prep Time: 15 minutes | Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes plus soaking
6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 sprig rosemary
1 pound dried white beans, such as Great Northern or cannellini, picked over, soaked overnight, and drained
2 bottles Belgian-style white ale (12 ounces each), such as Blue Moon or Hoegaarden
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, cook bacon over medium until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp and browned, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Increase heat to medium-high; add onion and garlic to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, 4 minutes. Add mustard and honey; cook 1 minute. Add rosemary, beans, beer, and broth; season with salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil; cover and transfer to oven.
Bake until beans are tender and most of liquid is absorbed, about 2 hours. Season to taste with vinegar, salt, and pepper. To serve, stir in reserved cooked bacon.