So as not to clutter up the Best Cornbread thread...
OK, I never bake these. I make them in a cast iron dutch oven on the woodstove and the wife and I both agree that's the best way I've even made them. They can be made on a stovetop in cast iron and that's how I made them today because it was too warm outside to run the wood stove, but they just aren't the same. Don't ask me why, it makes no sense. Maybe because the heat from the woodstove envelopes the dutch oven like an oven. I don't know, but it makes a difference. Bake them if you wish and let me know.
I know, the recipe contains molasses. I actually make it with 2 types of molasses. They aren't sweet due to the vinegar, and blackstrap isn't very sweet anyway, but it imparts wonderful flavor. Use the suggested amount of molasses and if you need to adjust the sweetness do it with more vinegar, but the recipe as posted is pretty close to being neutral. If I use ham stock I don't add the salt. Today I made it with the pickin's from a ham bone that I didn't carve exceptionally close to the bone, and boiled down some more to make the meat fall off the bone and increase the gelatin in the stock. I also added 1/2 pound of bacon. I just take the bacon, and cut it in the frozen block into 1/2" dices. That goes into the beans as they cook for tenderness and it sort of breaks up. Tomorrow I'll make the cornbread. Tonight I know I'm having baked beans with lots of ham in it. (If I make cornbread tonight I'll have a labor strike to deal with. The wife just got done washing dishes from the baked beans. Gotta be smart about "employing" the dishwasher.
FWIW, this recipe is NOT the traditional New England molasses bean recipe. If you want that buy a jar of B&M baked beans as made in Portland Maine. I don't make that style, but it's everywhere up here, everyone up here makes their version except me. I can eat them, I just don't prefer them, they're too lacking in flavor for my tastebuds. BTW, if anyone travels through Portland on I295 and the wind is right, you'll drive right by the B&M plant atthe north end of Portland and smell the beans cooking. They do smell delicious.
I have tried the burnt ends in my beans (see the note) and they work. If I use ham stock I don't add the salt. I didn't use dry mustard today, instead I used a few teaspoons of prepared mustard. Go by taste. I don't like sweet beans. I like a balanced baked bean flavor. I also used 3 onions about 1/2 the size of my smallish fists. To increase the smoke flavor a small shot of liquid smoke could be added. Heck, you're the cook. Oh, I added a few bay leaves to the beans as they tenderized; that's not in the recipe (it is now). I pulled them out before adding the other ingredients before the low slow simmer.
OK, the recipe, notes to myself and all...
Our Baked Beans
This isn’t for folks who are on a low sodium diet, or for those folks who watch their fat intake. It is a darn good baked bean recipe though. Maybe the salt could be reduced and maybe the fat could be reduced*, but you’ll need to figure that out for yourself. The original recipe came from a “Jack Rabbit” brand bean bag. I have changed it a bit to make it my own.
*pork fat isn't the villain it was once thought to be. Everything in moderation. Fat is where the flavor is and pork fat in moderation is actually good for the body.
1# Navy Pea Beans (dry and picked over)
1/4 # Bacon, diced
3-4 bay leaves (optional and removed after the beans are tender)
Smoked Ham Hocks (optional)
Burnt Ends (optional)
1 tsp Cider Vinegar
1 medium or large onion, diced
2 cup Bean liquor
2 tsp Salt
½ tsp dry ground mustard
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup Blackstrap Molasses (this is what I use)
½ cup molasses
This is best cooked in a cast iron dutch oven on the woodstove (it absolutely makes a difference! Just don't ask me why that's so.) But a reasonable facsimile can be made in a stockpot for the initial boil and then finished in a crockpot. It sounds crazy, but the same recipe done in cast iron and finished on a rangetop just doesn’t come out the same (as done on the woodstove), I’ve tried that. It is still good though.
Take the picked over beans and add them to a good size stockpot, they will swell as they cook, so don’t size the pot for their dry size, it needs to be 4x or more bigger than it what is needed for the dry beans. Add the meat (bacon and ham hocks [optional]) and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat but maintain a low boil or a high simmer. Keep enough water in the pot so that the beans cook without burning but not so much water that it looks like soup. The water must be checked frequently at least initially as the beans will absorb a lot of it as they swell. Cook the beans (about 2 hours) until they are as tender as you want the final product, when they are added to the other ingredients they will cook so slowly that they will not tenderize any more. I’ll say it again... After the initial boil they must be as tender as you want the final product. The ham hocks will also be done at this point. When I boil a smoked ham I save some of the stock created and use that for part of the water to boil the beans in, that same ham stock gets all of the skin and other parts that I can strip any meat from after the ham stock is boiled for hours. This creates a very rich ham stock and makes a better baked bean. When the beans are done transfer them (separate beans and ham from the bean liquor) to the vessel previously discussed in order to finish them off. Put the ham hocks to the side to cool.
Add all of the rest of the ingredients. The ham hocks get stripped of meat and the meat added to the beans. The blackstrap molasses version is better tasting to our palate, but you use what you like. The beans will cook slowly all day concentrating the flavors and reducing the liquid. 8 hours or more is about right. If it’s finished in cast iron, it’ll need to be stirred occasionally, the crockpot (on low) won’t need this attention. Put the crockpot on high with the lid removed to reduce the liquid over a period of hours if it needs a reduction. The beans will burn easily in cast iron on a woodstove, so use techniques to reduce the heat getting to the dutch oven, trivet, bricks, whatever it takes. They must cook slowly, barely a simmer. Covered or not depending on how fluid or dry you want the final product. It’s OK to add water or stock if the beans dry out too much.
Now how do I actually make the recipe? At one time I used the foolproof recipe (above), not any more as far as liquid amounts. The water and stock added to the beans for the initial cook is closely monitored so as not to have too much water remaining after the boil. I don’t measure out the bean liquor, I just add everything to the finishing vessel (if I start in cast iron, after the boil all I do is add the rest of the ingredients) knowing that any overage of liquid will reduce down. I’ve even been known to add additional stock to enhance flavor, and yes, it’ll get reduced down so as not to make too wet a baked bean. I’m saying I don’t measure the water or the bean liquor. I do monitor the baked beans to make sure the moisture level is what I want it to be and I control the liquid with the lid or by adding more liquid as needed. I don’t want my beans runny, I want the liquor thick but not like paste.
To reduce the fat: I have, when using “put up” ham stock, taken the jelled stock and just scraped the fat off of the top. That reduces the fat to almost nothing, and the flavor is preserved. The fatty version has best flavor though.
Note to self: Gotta try burnt ends for the smoked meat component.
One burnt end was made on 7/1/06. It got normal cherry smoke, and finished up (temp 173). Then sat in the Oval until the rest of the cook finished. Pulled the other point and flat and smoked for another 1.5+ hours with hickory. MMM good! But it’s for baked beans!
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