I used to hate beans. As in never ate them. They had weird, leathery skins and crumbly, dry insides. So baked beans were never on my radar. I think I’d been convinced to try the merest taste of some as a child, but it was sauce only. It was exceedingly sweet, or perhaps unexpectedly so. In either event, it was a no-go situation. Kids, in my admittedly limited experience, are creatures of blacks and whites; savoury is for supper and sweet is for dessert, and never the twain shall meet.
Fast-forward to adulthood, when my husband-to-be finds out I’ve never eaten baked beans – a staple of his own childhood. He insists I give them another go, while I insist (as vehemently) that they had their shot and missed out. I can’t remember how I was convinced, only that it happened. We got a canned version, spiked with chipotle, which we garnished liberally with sliced hot dogs. In that instant, my mind was changed.
The beans were pleasantly creamy in texture, not the crumbly dryness I remembered from my youth. The sauce wasn’t overly sweet, and was strongly smokey with a distinctly discernable spice from the chiles. From that moment, I knew I would one day create my own recipe for baked beans.
A crucial first step to crafting one’s own recipe is to begin with other people’s recipes. My go to for some time was from the Good Eats cookbook trilogy (volume two, if memory serves). While I can’t say I ever followed it to the letter, it did serve to build my understanding of correct proportions, of the flavour profile and method one can use to obtain a serviceable sweet-yet-savoury pot of beans. That said, the particular recipe was strongly flawed for my tastes.
More time passed. My brain was allowed to cogitate on the problem for quite some time. In fact, I can’t remember the last pot of beans I made before this one. Oh, we’ve eaten lots of beans, made in a variety of ways, but none were baked. Frankly, it’s been worth the wait. Not only is this recipe seriously tasty, it’s just about as easy as cooking gets short of opening a can. Sure, it takes a few hours to do its thing in the oven, but that just means you can kick back and read a book before supper. And I will give this another go using the pressure cooker, so stay tuned for updated method and cooktime.
Alright, let’s get this show on the road!
Emily’s Signature Baked Beans
500gr (dry weight) kidney-type beans (red, white, cranberry or any mix thereof)
1C diced onions
1 tsp each sea salt, garlic powder, ancho powder, smoked paprika, ground coriander and chili flakes
10 grinds black pepper (about 1/4 tsp)
3 tsp (1 Tbsp) salt-free chili powder
1 14oz can diced pineapple in juice
1 16oz can no-salt diced tomatoes, in juice
1/2 can tomato paste (about 1/4C)
4C water or broth
Optional: 2-3 tsp pickled pepper brine or vinegar-based hot sauce
- Make a brine from 1L water and 1 Tbsp Kosher salt. Soak the beans for at least 1 hour, or up to overnight. A longer soak will mean less cooking time, to a point. Rinse and drain.
- Heat oven to 250F, with the rack set to admit a large Dutch oven.
- Heat large Dutch oven on a medium low burner with a couple glugs of oil. Sweat off the onions until soft and translucent.
- Turn up the heat to medium high. Add salt and spices, stirring to keep them from burning. Cook about 1 minute, or until fragrant.
- Add beans to the pot, stirring to coat with spices. Pour in pineapple, tomatoes, paste and water. Stir well. Clamp the lid on.
- Bring the pot to a low boil. Hoist into the oven and bake for about 3 hours*, or until beans are tender.
Enjoy hot or cold, with crusty bread.
*If you’ve soaked your beans overnight, I’d start with 1 hour, then test and add time as needed.