New England Baked Beans

Cooks Illustrated, January/February 2017, page 14. For a pot of classic New England baked beans, we made a few smart tweaks while keeping the traditional flavor. Brining the beans overnight helped jump-start hydration and also softened their skins so they cooked up tender in the oven, with few blowouts. Uncovering the pot for the last hour of cooking ensured that the liquid reduced sufficiently to coat the beans in a thick sauce. Flavorings such as molasses, brown sugar, dry mustard, bay leaf, onion, and salt pork, plus one nontraditional ingredient (soy sauce), gave the beans rich flavor.
Photo by LRay W.

PREP TIME

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minutes

TOTAL TIME

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minutes

SERVINGS

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servings

PREP TIME

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minutes

TOTAL TIME

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minutes

SERVINGS

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servings

Ingredients

  • Salt

  • 1

    pound (2 1/2 cups) dried navy beans, picked over and rinsed

  • 6

    ounces salt pork, rinsed, cut into 3 pieces

  • 1

    onion, halved

  • 1/2

    cup molasses

  • 2

    tablespoons packed dark brown sugar

  • 1

    tablespoon soy sauce

  • 2

    teaspoons dry mustard

  • 1/2

    teaspoon pepper

  • 1

    bay leaf

Directions

You’ll get fewer blowouts if you soak the beans overnight, but if you’re pressed for time, you can quick-salt-soak your beans. In step 1, combine the salt, water, and beans in a large Dutch oven and bring them to a boil over high heat. Remove the pot from the heat, cover it, and let it stand for 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans and proceed with the recipe. 1. Dissolve 1 1/2 tablespoons salt in 2 quarts cold water in large container. Add beans and let soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well. 2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine beans, salt pork, onion, molasses, sugar, soy sauce, mustard, pepper, bay leaf, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 4 cups water in large Dutch oven. (Liquid should cover beans by about 1/2 inch. Add more water if necessary.) Bring to boil over high heat. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook until beans are softened and bean skins curl up and split when you blow on them, about 2 hours. (After 1 hour, stir beans and check amount of liquid. Liquid should just cover beans. Add water if necessary.) 3. Remove lid and continue to cook until beans are fully tender, browned, and slightly crusty on top, about 1 hour longer. (Liquid will reduce slightly below top layer of beans.) 4. Remove pot from oven, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes. Using wooden spoon or rubber spatula, scrape any browned bits from sides of pot and stir into beans. Discard onion and bay leaf. (Salt pork can be eaten, if desired.) Let beans stand, uncovered, until liquid has thickened slightly and clings to beans, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve. (Beans can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.) Baking Beans at High Altitude When testing our New England Baked Beans recipe, volunteer recipe testers living at high altitudes reported that they had a hard time getting the beans to cook through properly. This wasn’t too surprising since water boils at a lower temperature at high elevations, which presents numerous challenges in cooking. This led us to make a version of the recipe using a pressure cooker (a pressure cooker is ideal for cooking at higher altitudes because the enclosed environment raises the boiling point of water). After a few tests, we were happy to discover that it worked well, with a few modifications. REDUCE WATER: You have to reduce the amount of water you add to the pot (2 1/2 cups rather than 4) since little is lost to evaporation during cooking. The beans aren’t totally submerged when using this lesser amount, but in the sealed environs of a pressure cooker, it’s not an issue. RELEASE PRESSURE NATURALLY: Because beans cook at a faster rate in a pressure cooker, we found that 35 minutes at high pressure followed by a 15-minute “natural release” (where you move the pot off the heat and let the pressure come down slowly on its own) delivered fully cooked, tender beans. STIR TO RELEASE STARCHES: The cooking liquid will look thin initially but will thicken after about 15 minutes; stir the beans several times during this time to draw out the starches and thicken the glaze. Note that many pressure cooker manufacturers suggest adjusting cooking times and liquid amounts based on how many feet above sea level you are cooking; consult your manual for instructions.

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