Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Slow-cooked Boston beans

Today started dull, cool and drizzly. I was rather peeved at the Met Office, who I rely on for weather forecasts (perhaps I shouldn't), because on the basis of yesterday's prediction I had left some washing out on the line. It was as damp this morning as when I put it out there! It brightened up and got quite warm by mid-afternoon, but I was already thinking of cold-weather comfort food.

I had a portion of Boston beans for my lunch, from the freezer. The recipe below will make up to 10 portions (depending how greedy you are - I get about eight freezer bagfuls, which lasts a long time. It reheats perfectly, and is so cheap to make, it's perfect for lean times.

I suppose I should call them "Boston-style" beans, as this is simplified from the original, and they are not baked. They are awfully good, though - I never bought tins of baked beans before, but now I have no need to ever again.

Slow-cooked Boston-style beans
  • 750g-1kg dried beans, soaked overnight in water
  • two tins tomatoes
  • one onion, peeled
  • several rashers of bacon, or several hundred grammes smoked pork
  • dark brown sugar
  • half a dozen cloves
  • oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Pre-cook the beans by boiling in fresh water, but not until too soft - they should be slightly harder than you would want to eat. Drain.
  2. Halve the onion. Stud one half with the cloves, finely dice the other half.
  3. Roughly chop the bacon or pork, fry in the oil. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Soften the chopped onion in the rendered bacon fat.
  4. Put the fried onion, bacon, onion half, beans, tomatoes, and sugar into a slow cooker. Add enough water to cover, if necessary. Cook on high (if it has two settings) for several hours. Check the taste, season if necessary. Cook on low overnight, for a maximum of 12-18 hours.
notes and substitutions
This is vague, I know - like most of my recipes. If you want to make less, do so - I would say the ratio to stick to is 500g dried beans : 1 tin of tomatoes : half an onion. The beans can be borlotti, cannellini, pinto - anything really. Add more or less bacon/pork as desired - more will add extra flavour and make it seem more luxurious. The tomatoes can be whole or chopped, by the way - I go for whatever's cheapest. They will break down into a rich sauce after half a day's cooking either way. Any oil is fine - I use extra virgin olive oil for most things, myself. Be aware the bacon/pork will be salty - so be careful with the seasoning (don't add salt at the beginning, for this reason). As for the sugar, you may wish to adjust the sweetness after several hours, so add a dollop/couple of tablespoons, then see how it tastes. I have used palm sugar to great effect (it was all I had at the time) - it is deep and complex, which is perfect here. If your slow cooker only has one setting, you will not need to cook for so long - cook it until it is thick, red-brown, the beans are tender, and it tastes good!

If you use cheap bacon offcuts, this can be a very cheap meal indeed - well under £5 a batch, so no more than 50p per portion. I like to serve it on toast, sometimes with poached eggs. You could add cooked, chopped sausages for extra meatiness.

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