Quicker Boston Baked Beans Recipe
With Memorial Day fast approaching, the aroma of grilled food will be soon wafting all over our BBQ loving neighborhood-- I'm excited! We enjoy grilling. We also love baked beans as a side dish, and I usually buy my favorite commercial brand-- Bush's Baked Beans. Until now, I've never attempted to make my own Boston Baked Beans. I was intimidated, I think, because I envisioned having to cook the beans for long hours-- and I wondered if I needed a special pot.
When my issue of the June/July 2011 issue of Cook's Country Magazine arrived, I read it from cover-to-cover. This magazine belongs to the family of America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Illustrated. I love their recipes, so I read every article from start to finish. According to the Boston Baked Beans article, "most recipes call for at least six hours of cooking time in the oven. The test kitchen decided to develop a version that would cook in two hours! After reading the ingredients list, I realized I had everything on hand. My husband was making pulled pork, on the Weber. I planned to make the Carolina Red Slaw (also in this magazine issue) and I liked the idea of having baked beans as a side dish. For ingredients, I began with a one-pound bag of Navy Beans, picked through and rinsed.
The test kitchen researched baking soda, and realized that, by adding 1 Tablespoon, it would cut the cooking time of the beans in half. Better yet, I didn't have to presoak the beans! The beans were brought to a boil in a Dutch oven, and then briskly simmered on medium-high for 20 minutes; then drained. Meanwhile...
I cut six ounces of salt pork into 1/4" pieces...
The salt pork was cooked over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes. Next, I added chopped onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. I stirred in 3 cups of water, the beans, brown sugar, 1/4 cup molasses, Worcestershire, 1 tablespoon mustard, vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper-- then brought it to a boil. I transferred the Dutch oven, covered, to the oven and cooked them until beans were nearly tender, about 1 1/2 hours. They smelled so good, while they were baking. I was anxious to try them...
Whoops! The water had pretty much evaporated. I should have heeded the recipe note to increase the water by an extra cup, since I used a heavy cast-iron Dutch oven. I added a bit more water and then gave the beans a stir-- problem solved. It was time to taste.
TASTING NOTE #1: The beans were perfectly cooked, thank goodness. To me, the flavor was was very savory. I wasn't sure if it was the Worcestershire sauce, or too much Dijon mustard. Personally, I was sorely tempted to add tomato paste. But, the article said, "Although many recipes call for tomato products, native New Englander's assured us that they had no place in an authentic Boston baked bean recipe." I reconsidered what to do, as I much prefer a sweeter version of baked beans. Hey, I'm from California!
I decided to add an extra 1/4 cup of brown sugar and some honey. Yes, honey! I'm sorry if this offends anyone from Boston, but this did the trick for me.
FINAL TASTING NOTES: I have to be honest with all of you. On a scale from 1-5, 5 meaning that the beans were out-of-this-world great, I give this recipe a 3.5... only because I think Bush's Beans have spoiled my palate. HOWEVER, my husband and son loved these beans! They were completely devoured by day #2, and my son asked me to make them again. Therefore, my suggestion is that you can either adapt this recipe if you like a less savory version of Boston Baked Beans. Just to be a bit rebellious, I might go ahead and add some tomato paste, next time. I can't help it, but I love the tang of some concentrated tomato. Just don't tell anyone you know, who lives on the East Coast! I'll just rename them "California Baked Beans", okay?
Here's the recipe: