Boston Baked Beans

This is a recipe based on a version by James Beard. It’s a very easy—but very slow to make—recipe. “The trick to good baked beans is cooking them very slowly with indirect heat. This recipe calls for baking them in a tightly sealed casserole in an oven barely hot enough to toast bread. As the hours pass, the beans drink up a broth flavored with brown sugar, mustard, and pepper. The gentle cooking prevents the beans from breaking up and becoming mushy. By the time they’re done, the pork is falling off its bones and the beans are the classic rusty brown. Be sure to season them amply with salt so the sweetness has a sturdy counterpart.”

Boston Baked Beans
Serves 6

2 cups of white navy beans
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
1-1/2 medium peeled onions, cut in quarters, and studded with 2-3 whole cloves
5 baby back ribs (half-rack) plus 1/4 lb. of pork belly cut into chunks
/or/ 20 ounces of pork belly or slab bacon
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup or molasses
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
Dash of cayenne
1/4 cup ketchup

In a large bowl, soak the beans in 2 quarts of water for 6 hours. Drain the beans and put them in a Dutch oven larger than 2 quarts.. Add the salt and enough cool water to cover 2 inches above the beans. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the beans are just barely tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Drain well.

Bring another pot of water to a boil. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In the bottom of a large casserole with a tight-fitting lid, place the onion and meats. Spread the beans on top. In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, maple syrup (or molasses), mustard, black pepper, cayenne, and ketchup and add this to the beans and pork. Pour in just enough boiling water to barely cover the beans, put the lid on and bake. (Add a small amount of boiling water if beans seem dry) Cook until the beans are tender but not falling apart, about 5 to 6 hours.

Remove the casserole from the oven. Turn oven up to 350. Season the beans with salt, if needed. Pull the meat from the ribs. Discard the bones and excess fat and stir the meat back into the beans. With the lid off, return the casserole to the oven and let the beans finish cooking, uncovered and without additional water, until the sauce has thickened and is nicely caramelized on top, about 40 minutes more.

Serve with Boston Brown Bread