Monday, 7 November 2011
Dried beans need to be soaked and parboiled before using. It doens't matter which you do first. Boiling will drive out the starch, which is the cause of the embarrassing intestinal gas that causes some people distress. Soaking gets the beans ready to be slow-cooked, and in some varieties of beans, removes the possibility of a toxic compound that can develop as beans dry.
Equipment: Deep saucepan with lid; beanpot, colander, cutting board and knife. Beanpot or all-metal enamelled or stainless pot with handles, about 8 cup size.
Ingredients: 2 cups dried beans, preferably great northern or white navy beans, sometimes called pea beans; boiling water, about four cups; 1/4 cup fancy or blackstrap molasses, 2 tablespoons prepared mustard or 1 tablespoon dry mustard; one whole onion, peeled; 2-3 strips of smoked bacon, or a small piece of ham, or leftover pork roast, especially the fatty end, or a two inch square of salt pork.
Jacob's cattle or brown field beans can be used, or even dried soybeans. I try to use the traditional white beans, though. The molasses can be light or dark (fancy or blackstrap here). In England you would call it treacle. Dark or blackstrap will have a stronger flavour, less sweet. Any kind of prepared mustard you might have will work, or dry mustard powder. Adjust the amount to taste, as with the molasses. The most traditional recipes do not include tomato sauce or catsup, but if you prefer, add about 1/2 cup.
Directions: Begin the night before. Sort through the beans and remove any small stones, weird things, and strange beans. (This is an important step - I broke a tooth in someone else's kitchen because the child designated to sort the beans didn't.) Put the beans in a colander and rinse under cold water. Place the beans in the saucepan, add about 3-4 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Let boil a few minutes, skimming off the foam. Drain the beans again, and cover with four cups of water. Cover the pot and set aside overnight. In the morning, drain the beans and put into the stoneware beanpot or the covered pot. (Most covered casseroles are too shallow.) Peel the onion but don't slice it. Cut almost all the way through the onion in a cross shape, put into the beanpot and push it down into the beans. Get four cups of water up to a boil. Add the molasses, mustard, bacon/ham/pork, and tomato sauce, if using. If you want your beans to be vegetarian, add two more tablespoons of molasses and a 1/4 cup of olive or safflower oil. Beans are mealy and bland if no fat is used in the cooking. Pour enough boiling water over the beans to cover them by about 1/4 inch, stir a little, cover, and put the beanpot into an oven of about 275F-300F. It will take anywhere from 4-7 hours to cook the beans, depending on the type and how old they are. (Old beans take longer, so try to rotate bean stocks once a year.) Check occasionally to make sure the beans are still covered with water. If not, add just enough hot water to bring up the level. When done, the beans should be nicely brown and soft enough to mash with a fork.
This makes enough for a family or for the two of us to have over three days. Leftovers can be frozen.
Add pieces of kielbasa or Polish sausage the last hour for a heartier meal. My mother always served boiled potatoes, corn or carrots, and tomato slices along with homemade bread. She would sometimes go to the trouble of making steamed brown bread, a true Yankee tradition.