Saveur (March 2012)
You know that old saw about how, if you're trying to sell your house, you should always have a batch of cookies baking in the oven when you show the place? Supposedly, the familiar aroma of fresh-baked cookies puts would-be buyers at ease and gives them a sense of comfort.
Forget that. Ditch the cookies and simmer a pot of these New England-Style Baked Beans for six hours. The darkly sweet aroma coming from the oven is the most enticing, comforting thing you can imagine.
Traditionally, baked beans were a Sunday dish. There's a good reason for that: Counting the soaking time for the beans, this is nearly an eight-hour recipe. But it's almost entirely hands-off cooking, so the beans can simmer away while you read the paper, have coffee, make breakfast, watch Lindsay Lohan struggle through a DVR'd SNL, go to the gym, eat second-breakfast, do some laundry, return a book at the library, go to the grocery store and stream St. Elmo's Fire on Netflix 'cause you can't find anything to watch on TV. (Or was that just our most recent Sunday?)
Anyhow, the beans. It's all very simple, but you do need to check on them from time to time. We found that ours got a little too dry, so we added an extra cup of water. Then, once the beans were tender and cooked through, we stirred in the rum and served up a couple bowls.
Heavenly! Absolutely delicious. The mix of dry mustard, ketchup, cider vinegar and molasses made for pitch-perfect, classic baked beans. And the dark rum totally sealed the deal. We sampled the beans before adding it, and they were good. But the infusion of the rum -- even just a tablespoon -- brought out an amazing depth of flavor.
A couple observations: Zach loved the salt pork, but Clay would have preferred slab bacon. (He didn't love the texture of the salt pork.) And while it's totally possible that the cloves added to the overall flavor of the beans, neither of us could really detect a specific clove-iness. It'd be interesting to sample these with and without the cloves. Also, we forgot to add salt and pepper in the final step, but we didn't miss it. Especially the salt -- with the salt pork, these beans were plenty salty. Pepper might've been nice, but, again, we didn't notice the omission until we were re-reading the recipe.
On the whole, we thought this was the perfect Sunday night dinner. (Or, considering how well these keep in the fridge, the perfect Tuesday night dinner. Or Thursday lunch.)
In fact, if we have a complaint, it's that we didn't double the recipe.
TIPS FROM ZACH AND CLAY OF THE BITTENWORD
In the final few hours of the beans being in the oven, pay attention to how much liquid is in the pot. We found that we needed to add a cup of water in the final two hours of the beans cooking.
1 lb. dried navy beans, picked over and rinsed
1 medium yellow onion, ends trimmed, peeled, and left whole
4 whole cloves
8 oz. slab bacon or salt pork, trimmed and cut into 2″ x 1/4″ pieces
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. maple syrup
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
2 tsp. dry mustard powder
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tbsp. cider vinegar
1 tbsp. dark rum
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Bring the beans and 10 cups of water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan over high heat, and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover the saucepan with a lid, and let the beans sit for 1 1/2 hours. (This "quick soak" produces effects similar to those achieved by soaking the beans in water overnight.) Drain the beans in a colander, and discard the cooking liquid.
Heat oven to 250°. Stud the onion with the cloves and place in a 4-qt. Dutch oven along with the beans, bacon, maple syrup, molasses, dry mustard, and 3 cups boiling water; stir to combine. Cover pot with a lid, and place in the oven; cook, lifting the lid and stirring occasionally, for 3 hours. Stir in ketchup and vinegar. Cover with lid again, and return to the oven; cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the liquid has reduced to a thick glaze, about 3 hours more.
Stir in rum; season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls; serve with brown bread, if you like.