Though I reserve a special kind of disgust for the luminous-orange tinned monstrosity that is commonly sold under the name ‘baked beans’, the rich, tangy, home-made, cowboy-style version of the dish is one of my favourite things to eat. Piled on top of some thick toast with some strong cheddar grated on top, these beans are a perfect winter warmer. Stir in some smoked paprika and cumin and they make a great filling for a Tex Mex-style burrito, too. And whilst the worst of winter might be behind us now, as the weather warms up, I'm still craving those beans. In the US, Boston beans are often served as a side dish to BBQ food; there’s a similar depth of flavour and sweet and sour tang. As the smell of smoke in the air begins to signify summer barbecues rather than winter bonfires, I find myself thinking up ways to replicate the smokiness from the open fire in the dish. The answer is, obviously, beer.
Mark Dredge has made a version of this dish using Schlenkerla Marzen, which looks great. Whilst acknowledging his idea, I want to use my own recipe for the beans, which is based on various different versions I've tweaked and compiled over the years. When it comes to the beer, I want something dark and rich, smoked but subtle with it. A porter should work with the treacle in the dish, so I'm opting for Beavertown’s Smog Rocket. This beer was originally conceived as a match for BBQ ribs, so it should be especially appropriate. Mark notes that even with a full on rauchbier, he didn't end up tasting much smoke in his beans, so I'm going to use smoked garlic in place of regular garlic, and season with smoked salt, too. I'm reducing the amount of treacle in the recipe, as the beer should add a similar depth of flavour, and whereas I’d normally add some vegetable stock, I'm getting rid of it here to account for the beer.
How does it taste? Beautiful. The smoke is there, just a hint in the background, and would complement barbecued food perfectly – I’ll be making this as a side dish for my back garden BBQs this summer – but the beer’s principal value here is adding richness and deep, moreish flavour.
- 2 cans of borlotti beans, drained (the classic tinned version of baked beans are haricot, but you could use almost any variety. I particularly like borlotti beans and most recipes suggest them)
- 1 tsp smoked garlic powder (you can used fresh smoked garlic, but I've found the powder to be more pungently smoky. I buy it in a resealable packet from the specialist ingredient section of Sainsbury’s)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 150ml Beavertown Smog Rocket smoked porter
- 200ml passata
- 1 tsp black treacle/molasses
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2. Find a pan which has a lid and is suitable for both the stovetop and the oven – a cast-iron casserole or similar is ideal. Fry the onion until soft and golden, then add the garlic powder and fry off for another minute or so.
3. Keep the beans to one side, and combine all of the other ingredients in the pan to make a sauce. Once combined, add the beans and bring to a boil.
4. Once the dish has come to the boil, turn off the hob, place the lid on the pan and put it into the oven. Bake for about 90 minutes, stirring every now and again. Be sure to scrape the stodgy, caramelised, crusty bits from the edge of the pan and stir them back into the sauce, as they’re full of flavour.
5. After 90 minutes, remove the lid and check the consistency. By now it should have thickened, with little excess liquid floating to the top. Once you reach this point, remove the lid and return the pan to the oven to reduce further. It may not sound appetising, but this dish tastes best when it’s gloopy, so put it back, uncovered, in the oven until it is a shade of reddish brown, thick and looking almost crusty on the surface. Remove from the heat and stir before serving.