Sunday, 16 August 2015

Baked Beans from Scratch

Baked Beans from Scratch

Here in Calgary, Alberta, home of the cowboy, barbecues feature grilled meat and baked beans, all to be eaten outdoors. It’s a tradition.  Baked beans from scratch take about 20 hours, including soaking time, about an hour of prep time, and hours of cooking time.  Most people open large cans of pork and beans and pour them into rustic looking containers.  But if you have the time, 'from scratch' outshine the canned variety by many country miles.

For our Barber-Cue (big back yard party for Barbershop singers and fans), I start from scratch.  I wouldn’t normally go to this trouble, but for large numbers of people, and on a yearly basis, it’s a necessary luxury.  By the time I’m eating the last bean, I’m telling myself I must make them more often, and maybe this year I will.  They are that good!

This recipe makes a huge vat of baked beans, and if you have left overs, they freeze well.  Just be sure to add lots of extra water when reheating them, so they remain saucy.

900 to 1300 grams dried navy beans (depending on how much you want)
Water to cover

3 tablespoons healthy oil such as olive or canola
2 red onions, diced
6 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
4 teaspoons dried and crumbled oregano
2 teaspoons dried and crumbled thyme
1 teaspoon dried chili pepper flakes (more for a spice loving crowd)
20 grates fresh black pepper
4 tablespoons jaggery powder (or brown sugar)
2 tablespoons hot mustard powder
3 tablespoons Hungarian (sweet) paprika powder
796 ml can tomatoes
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (more to taste, later)
1 cup maple syrup
3 cups pre-cooked bacon (keep your kitchen cleaner by purchasing it ready-cooked!)
1 bottle porter beer

Additional salt, cider vinegar and maple syrup to taste

I’ve given a variation of amount of beans here, but the other ingredients remain the same. In fact, if I weren’t feeding so many people, I would have gone with just 900 grams of beans.

Soak the beans overnight.  Be sure to add much more water than beans, as they swell.  Early next morning, around 8 am or so, drain and rinse the beans.  I used a slow cooker, so I added enough water to cover the beans, put the lid on, and set the machine to ‘high’.
The beans must be left alone to cook.  Don’t add any salt now as it will prevent them from cooking properly.

Slow cooker takes time, but reduces effort!  
Around noon, I started the onions and spices.  In a large pan, add oil and turn heat to medium high.  Add the onions, stirring, and lower heat to medium.  Cook till all are transparent, and most are browned.  This is an important step for good flavour.  Obey!  

Add garlic and stir.  Fry for a minute or two, then add oregano, thyme, chili flakes, black pepper and jaggery. (What those cowboys don’t know, won’t hurt em,) or brown sugar, sigh, if you must.  Stir well.  Then add the mustard and paprika powders.  Stir again.  

By now the onion mix will be nicely browned, especially with the addition of the sweet jaggery or sugar. 

Check out the beans.  They should be tender.  If there is liquid to spare, remove it now.  Push a cup into the crock and scoop out available liquid and discard. 
Gently fry the spices to release their flavours.
Add the cooked onion mix but put the onion pan back on the heat.  Drain the tomato liquid into the onion pan to deglaze it, then add that to the bean crock.  Break the tomatoes up and add to the beans, along with the vinegar, maple syrup, bacon and beer.  (I didn’t have room for it all, so I reserved some of the bacon so I could add it later, when more of the liquid had reduced.) 

Cowboys in these parts swear that beans must be accompanied by pork, as the pork fat combines with the beans to make a complete protein.  Maybe that isn’t true, but the flavours do work, despite my usual hesitation to use pork.  Bacon is very salty, so hold off on adding any of that till you’re very sure it’s needed.
Cross your fingers you have enough room!  Save some bacon for later if not.
Put the lid back on to bring the temperature up again, but once everything is simmering again, turn the lid so extra liquid can reduce.  Continue to cook for another five hours or so, stirring and tasting from time to time.  Adjust for salt, vinegar and possibly maple syrup or jaggery. 

Because I like a lot of heat, and this is a conservative Calgarian crowd, I kept a bottle of naturally fermented Seabuckthorn Hot Sauce handy.  If you can’t find it, google it to see if you can get it by mail order.  I think it’s a Calgary specialty, and yes Seabuckthorn is that thorny silver and orange shrub the city plants to discourage people from living in the shrubbery along freeways.  This local berry makes a magnificent hot sauce for a traditional Calgary barbecue feast!

Grilled steak, pork, fish, sausages, you name it, were grilled outdoors at the barbecues, and a huge table groaned with potluck savoury dishes, along with my beans and baked potatoes.  Another table held my Crème de la Crème Caramel Custard Squared, Nutella Trifle and very many gorgeous potluck sweets, from crisps to cakes to pies.  Oh my!  The singing was great and the companionship even better!  I'm already looking forward to next year!

I ate the leftovers for breakfast, with  toast and lots of Seabuckthorn Hot Sauce, I confess.

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