Introduction: Bacony Boston Baked Beans

About: Unsurprisingly, I like to make stuff.

Baked Beans were a favorite of my childhood, but we always ate it out of a can. At some point when I was on a molasses kick I decided to try making my own baked beans. The key characteristic of Boston Baked Beans is the use of Molasses. So prevalent was the use of molasses among Bostonians due to run distilling that there was actually a molasses flood that killed 21 people!

The first time I made these beans, it was a remarkable failure. The flavors were fine, but the beans never got soft. Some people say that you shouldn't put salt in the water until after they're soft, others say the only thing that matters is getting fresh beans. Either way, I think looking for fresh beans (as opposed to ones that have been sitting on a shelf for a year) and adding salt close to the end is a fine strategy. The salt from the bacon is probably enough as it is, and the beans don't need all that much more salt.

Many Boston Baked Bean recipes call for salt pork, but I find some nice, cruelty-free country-cut bacon is easier to lay my hands on, and just as tasty. I use a slow cooker for this recipe, but if you have a ceramic bean pot you can cook it in there in the oven.  These beans are great as dinner, or my suggestion is eating them on top of eggs and toast (or naan, as pictured) for a great English Breakfast! The beans keep for quite a while, so you can experiment with different ways to eat them.  You can also cook brown bread or cornbread as an accompaniment, for a more traditional approach.

Serves: 6 - 8 people
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 8-12 hours

Step 1: Ingredients

1 lb beans - Traditionally you would use great northern or navy beans. I like using pinto or cranberry beans too, depending on what's available in my neighborhood
1/2 lb cruelty-free, country-cut bacon or salt pork
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/3 cup molasses (you can substitute honey, but then they'll be honey baked beans not Boston baked beans, but this recipe works well either way)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tbs worcestershire sauce
1 tbs dry ground mustard seed

Salt to taste

- crock pot or bean pot
- skillet

Step 2: Soak the Beans

Rinse the beans several times and then soak the beans in plenty of cold water overnight. Drain the beans and reserve three cups of the soaking water.  The beans will about double in size.

Step 3: Browning the Bacon and Onions

Some recipes just have you put in the onions and bacon raw without browning. I believe browning always makes things better. If you don't get your meat nicely browned before cooking, you lose a lot of flavor which is impossible to make up for later.

1. Start off by browning the bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat. No oil necessary, as the fat will quickly render.  You don't want the bacon to get to the crispy stage, just lightly browned (see picture).

2. Remove half the browned bacon and place it at the bottom of the crock pot. 

3. Push the remaining bacon to the side of the pan and add the diced onions.  Cook the onions until also lightly browned.

Step 4: Mix Up the Broth

4. Heat the reserved soaking water (just needs to be warm enough to easily dissolve the molasses).

5. Mix all the ingredients other than the beans, bacon, and onion into the warm water and stir until the lumps of molasses, brown sugar and ketchup are dissolved.

Step 5: Put Everything Else in the Crock Pot

6. Place all the beans on top of the browned bacon that is in the pot.

7. Add the onions and rest of the bacon on top of the beans.

8. Pour in the liquid. The level of the liquid should be about at the same height as the level of the beans.

9. Set the crock pot on high until it starts to boil and then set it on low or warm overnight.

The next day (or that night), your beans should be done! If it's too liquidy, turn the pot up to high for the hour before you want to eat and let some of the liquid boil off, or mash up some of the beans in the liquid, which should thicken it up. Also add a tablespoonish of salt an hour before you want to eat it.

These beans are great over eggs and toast for an english breakfast or brunch or just on their own. They are sweet and full of bacon and truly delicious!

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