The Pork and The Beans

Baked Beans. My favourite accompaniment to Baked Potatoes, Egg and Chips, Fish Fingers or a Fat-Saturated Fry-Up. I love the sweet, tomato-y sauce and the way that they taste just as good straight out of the can, standing next to the sink at midnight.
And of course, I particularly revelled in the Baked Bean Renaissance of 1992, when the humble saucy bean was placed on top of a pizza. I have always been advocate of baked beans with pizza anyway, so this was an affirmation of my slightly odd tastes.
However, I knew that whilst tinned beans are great, homemade beans must be greater still so I set to work on finding a recipe that could put their canned cousins to shame.
The first thing I considered was what bean to use. The traditional British Baked Bean is made with Haricot (Navy) Beans, which is a small, firm white bean with a slightly mealy texture. I didn’t have Haricot Beans in the cupboard so opted for a larger bean, the Cannellini bean which is creamier, although Butter Beans would also be particularly good (and in fact, any bean really, providing it’s dried).
The second thing to consider is what you’re going to add to the beans to add substance. Pork is traditional, and in virtually any cut: belly pork, bacon, gammon, chorizo or black pudding (we added a Spanish Morcilla as an experiment). Fatty, salted cuts give the best flavour, and the spiced sausages add a delectable smoky taste to the final dish. I decided to use a smoked Gammon joint that we recently procured from a local organic farm. I left the joint to soak in clean, cold water over the course of a few hours to soften the strong cured flavour – you want all the flavours to work together and not be overwhelmed by any one ingredient.
The final element is the sauce itself. Do you want a darkly coloured but fairly thin broth like Boston Baked Beans or a rich, full-bodied tomato sauce? Since I had already made Boston Baked Beans some weeks ago, I decided sweet and tomato-y was the way to go. I achieved this flavour by adding the cooking liquor from the beans (which also adds a starchy, thickening element), a can of tomatoes, some maple syrup and a good slug of hot pepper sauce. Long slow cooking is the only way to achieve a thick, unctuous sauce and you want it to simmer in the oven until the meat falls apart into lusciously pink, moist chunks.
Our Baked Beans had a double cooking session, 2 hours on Wednesday Night, and then another 2 hours last night. The halting of the cooking procedure had no inadvertent affects on the dish and in fact, I think this helps the flavours to meld more deeply.
We served it very simply, in large bowls with the leftover Cornbread (which reheats quite well, by the way) and brown bread rolls, thickly buttered. A delicious, non-pretentious one pot meal that could be served on a Wintery day or as a side for a Summertime barbeque.
If you want to make Pork and Beans, Freya style, here's the recipe, but remember that many of the ingredients are interchangeable, for example honey or molasses instead of maple syrup, paprika instead of pepper sauce, belly pork instead of gammon. Less sweet and more savoury. You build the beans!

FREYAS PORK AND BEANS, serves 2 with leftovers for tomorrow
250g Dried Cannellini (or Haricot) Beans (soaked overnight)
1kg Piece of Cured Pork, belly pork, gammon, bacon or several links of chorizo, soaked in water for a few hours if the cure is particularly strong.
2 Bay Leaves
6 Black Peppercorns
1 Tin Chopped Tomatoes
2 Onions, one peeled but left whole, the other peeled and thinly sliced
Brown Sugar to taste (I used Demerara but any brown sugar will suffice)
Good Slug of Maple Syrup to taste (again, honey or molasses will also do, depending on preference)
Dash of Hot Pepper Sauce (you could add some whole dried chilis or Paprika instead)
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Preheat Oven to 140c.
Drain the soaked beans. Place in a large saucepan with the whole onion and one of the bay leaves, cover and bring to the boil. DO NOT SALT AT THIS STAGE!
Cook, uncovered, for about 40 minutes.
In an ovenproof stockpot, gently heat some butter and cook the sliced onion until golden brown and soft.
If the Pork was soaked, drain and rinse a couple of times, then pat dry with some kitchen roll.
Place the pork in the stockpot on top of the onions. Pour over the beans AND the cooking liquor, and all the other ingredients excluding the salt.
Cover tightly and place in the oven for four hours.
After two hours, remove the lid, stir well and taste for seasoning. Add some salt if you feel it needs it. Return beans to the oven.
Half an hour before the end of cooking time, remove the lid so allow the sauce to thicken.
After this time, your pork and beans will be mingling with a thick, sweet sauce. Taste again for seasoning. Pull the pork into thick chunks and serve in large bowls with brown bread.


mooncrazy said...

I've never thought of cannellini for this but love the texture of that certain bean. Good idea.

ostwestwind said...

I'm just slow cooking butter beans to prepare baked beans :-). I'll serve them with fried eggs and sausages on Monday.

Kelly-Jane said...

That looks really warm and comforting.

I'm sure we would like home made baked beans - I bought a couple of bags of beans a month or two ago, to make them and then forgot. I'll try and fit it in next week though :)

Sara said...

What a fantastic recipe Freya. I love baked beans and haven't made them in years, I've been relying on the tins. But baked beans on pizza? That's new to me. Tell more!

Doodles said...

darn that looks good....tuck this away for future use.

Callipygia said...

I love this about beans, you can really tweak it a bunch of ways. A friend of mine cooks hers overnight in the oven on low, what a way to wakeup in the morning.

Kathryn said...

I didn't know about baked beans on pizza either...?? I do know that those beans look delicious - a much nicer alternative to tins. Not that I reject tinned baked beans, to be honest, but still. It looks like the sort of dinner I could have done with tonight!

sandi @ the whistlestop cafe said...

We like our baked beans on the sweet and spicy side too...molasses and hot sauce.
Long slow baking is the key!

Chris said...

I with doodles...this is one for the "to be cooked" pile. I love baked beans but have never made them. Being from Boston, I didn't need being bean town and all..:) Not the same down here!

Gourmet Peasant said...

Beans on pizza. Yum! In mexico they add to pizza a layer of refried beans. I just love it.

Julia said...

Oh that looks sooo good. I'm also adding it to the 'must try' list.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Why is it we don't think of these really simple dishes more often. The taste is so far from simple other than simply fantastically good!
Excellent job on the beans!

Elle said...

Isn't it interesting that sometimes the best thing is something with pork? The cannelli beans for this is a great idea. Sounds yum.

veron said...

This is such an appetizing dish! I always loved pork and beans as a child. I have not had this in so long... thanks for the recipe!

Helene said...

You know, the more I look at these pictures, the hungrier I get...and I just had breakfast! Pork and beans....yum!

Katie said...

So much better than that stuff from the tin, particulary the tinned beans found on this side of the pond.

sher said...

Well, I'm seriously going crazy right now! I love baked beans and your recipe is a thing of beauty. But, I am so sad that I can't have some Right Now!!!! But, be assured--I will make myself some of those soon!

Sarah said...

Freya, these look so good! I haven't had baked beans in forever, but I always love them when I do. Hope all is well...

joey said...

This looks fantastic! I love beans! :) I can just imagine how flavorful this is....mmmmmm! :)

Ulrike said...

My slow cooked beans are served on toast now.

Jeanne said...

OK, that's it, I'm coming over to your place right away to sample some of this! There can be no finer combination than pork and beans (witness cassoulet!) - and if you throw in cornbread, I am totally at your command :) I've never tried making my own baked beans but I think the time is coming...