Baked beans are a New England staple at many, if not all holidays. Leaving them out would be like dis-inviting that annoying cousin that talks about themself way too much and spits the slightest bit on your arm when they laugh. For the sake of tradition, they have to be there. Baked beans are that cousin.
When I look at them, they look good.
When I smell they, they smell good.
When I think about them, they seem like they would be really good.
When I taste them, they are just alright.
The fact of the matter is, in a world of green bean casseroles (seriously, is there anyone out there who wouldn’t kill for a French’s onion right now?), baked beans just don’t hold their own like they used to. In fact, I have often sat down to a plate of baked beans and wondered, what is this missing? Come to find out, the answer was glaringly obvious: more meat. More-freaking-meat!
As much as I admire the sentiment behind the bean-eating, animal-saving, Birkenstock-wearing vegetarian lifestyle, I am wholeheartedly in love with meat. Note: I am eating a carrot, holding a cat and wearing Birkenstocks as I type this, so I do not lie to you (wait, the carrot part was a lie).
Nevertheless, I suspect most of my fellow Mainer’s can relate to this love affair I have with meat. So, this Easter, if you are going to spend 18+ hours on your beans, just go for it. Go all the way. The pork ribs. The bacon. The tiny, little hot dogs that are packed so tightly into that plastic that they almost scare you. Don’t sell your dish short. No one is going to miss that space in the pot where more beans went. Except for maybe your cousin.
2 c. navy beans, dry
Water (my kitchen sink broke this week so I put this on here so as not to take for granted this beautiful ingredient)
1 t. kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 medium onions, chopped
½ lb. bacon, chopped (slab bacon works well but if you can’t find it, go with a thick cut)
1 – 1 ½ lb. pork ribs
½ package mini beef hotdogs
1/3 c. molasses
2 T. maple syrup
2 T. Dijon mustard
1 t. pepper, plus more to taste
Note: Everyone likes their beans flavored differently. You may want to add more molasses, maple syrup and/or Dijon mustard. I do, personally. As written, this ingredient line-up will give you a more toned-down flavor profile to use as your base. I recommend starting here and adding more, in 1 tablespoon increments, as you near the end of cooking.
- Begin by soaking your beans. This will take at least 6 hours, but my recommendation is to cover your dry beans in water before bed and they will be ready to go in the morning. Be sure to give yourself all day to cook your beans. Hypothetically they should only take about 6 hours from start to finish, but I have known them to take longer.
- When your beans are thoroughly soaked, place them into a large, heavy pot along with the water you soaked them in. Add more water if necessary, along with 1 t. salt. The water level should be about 2 inches above the beans. Bring to a boil for about 20 minutes, or until they are barely beginning to become tender. If you boil them for too long they will be mush by the time they are done cooking. Drain beans and set aside, reserving the liquid.
- Preheat oven to 250°F. Wipe out the large, heavy pot you’ll be cooking the beans in and cook your bacon. Meanwhile, bring your reserved water to a boil on the side. Once bacon is cooked, place the chopped onions in a layer on top of the bacon, followed by a layer of ribs, hotdogs and beans. Mix the molasses, maple syrup, mustard and pepper in a dish to the side, then drizzle atop the beans. Pour enough boiling water over the beans to just barely cover them. Place lid on the pot and put it in the oven to bake.
- The beans should take 4-5 hours to cook, but check in on them from time to time to make sure you don’t need to add more boiling water to the pot. Once the beans are cooked through—tender but not falling apart—remove the rib bones and excess pork fat from the pot. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, as well as any additional maple syrup, molasses, and Dijon mustard. Turn the heat up to 350°F and return to the oven with the lid removed. Bake for about 40 more minutes. You’ll notice that your liquid will evaporate and thicken, and the top of the beans will caramelize. Once they are cooked to your liking, remove from the oven and enjoy!