This was my first attempt at baked beans, and I was rather pleased with the results; they seemed the perfect thing to serve on a chilly Autumn day alongside pork chops. I made up my own recipe, following some vague advice from the sous chef at the restaurant where I work, which included "use lots of bourbon and molasses," which I certainly did. You might want to try smaller amounts of some of these ingredients (bourbon, ketchup, molasses), as I started with smaller amounts and then added as I saw fit, keeping track of my amounts as I went along. This recipe is the finished product.
It is nearly impossible to find fresh beans, but you should use them if you can - you might have to really search the farmer's markets. Here in Columbus, fresh beans of numerous varieties are easiest to find at Dearsman Farms at the North Market. You could substitute black eyed peas, cranberry beans, or any slow-cooking bean variety. Of course, canned beans work well, and you can always used dried, but with my patience level (low), I always get frustrated waiting from the to cook.
My new favorite way to cook beans is in the rice cooker. I just add the beans and lots of water and let it boil away, largely ignoring it except to check the water level every hour or so, as beans absorb a lot of water. For these fresh kidney beans, cooking time was about 2 hours or just slightly more. I would imagine dried beans, soaked overnight, would take upwards of 3-4 hours to cook. Canned beans, of course, can simply be drained and added directly to the pot.
Baked Beans - serves 6ish
4 cans kidney, cannelloni, or other nice bean, or 4 cups fresh kidney beans or other, or 3 cups dried beans
1 pound pork belly (fresh, uncured bacon), shoulder, regular slab bacon (either really thick cut or uncut*), or other relatively fatty cut of pork, chopped into small pieces
1 large onion, any kind, cut into medium dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups bourbon (grocery store brand is fine)
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup golden syrup (optional, if not using, bump molasses and brown sugar up by 2 tbsp)
1 cup chicken, beef or vegetable broth
1/4 cup vinegar (any type is fine)
1/4 cup Dijon mustard or mustard powder
crushed red pepper flake
salt and pepper
If you are using dried beans, soak them overnight and then boil until tender, 3-4 hours; for fresh beans, boil 2-3 hours, then drain and set aside. For canned beans, simply read on.
In a large Dutch oven (at least 8 quarts), heat a tbsp of oil over medium-medium high heat. Brown the bacon or pork pieces well on each side, about 4 minutes per side, depending on side. Remove from the pot and set aside. Add your onions and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes, then add the garlic, stirring well. Be careful that your garlic does not burn. Add the bourbon - step away from the pan or you will get a face full of bourbon fumes! Look at your pork bits; if they are really fatty still, cut off anything you wouldn't want to eat. You can keep the fatty bits, chop them very finely, and use to make Brussels sprouts if you wish, or feed them to the dog, or throw away. Put pork back into pan; add the ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, golden syrup, broth, vinegar and mustard. Stir to combine. Add the beans. Add about 1 tbsp red pepper flakes, or less if you prefer, and season liberally with salt and pepper. Allow to cook - uncovered - for about 1 hour, stirring frequently, until the sauce has reduced to a delicious thick coating on the beans. Taste after about 1/2 hour the check the seasoning. You might find you need a little more vinegar, brown sugar, or molasses. Adjust as necessary and continue cooking, tasting every 15 minutes or so. Remember your flavors are going to concentrate as the mixture cooks down, so use a restrained hand when cooking.
Remove from heat and serve to hungry Husband or other happy recipient. Keeps in fridge for several days and gets better with reheating. If you want to feel healthy next day for lunch, pair with some brown rice - a good way to get in your daily fiber!
*Blues Creek Farm in the North Market, one of my favorite meat purveyors, sells chunks of bacon ends which can't be sliced into neat little strips. These are perfect for this sort of thing, or for making greens; they are less expensive than the prettier bacon but just as wonderful. Blues Creek has hands down the best tasting bacon I have tried in Columbus.
The beans, onions and garlic were all provided by local vendors at the North Market Farmer's Market. Really good stock can be purchased from North Market Poultry and Game - both beef and chicken. It might seem expensive, but it is concentrated and can be watered down to make broth by mixing with equal parts warm water; freeze anything remaining, and do not keep in fridge longer than about 5 days.