Baked beans are not always baked and that’s fine, but we really feel like if we’re going to call them baked beans, we need to bake them. Maybe that’s something we need to get over. But when you bake them and the liquid starts to get all thick and rich around the edges, that’s the best.
With a little bit of caramelization, maple syrup, mustard, and molasses, these beans are a mid-winter treat. And the real curve ball is lamb bacon. Our butcher happened to have some house-made lamb bacon and the price was right, so we went for it. The results were incredible. Of course you can substitute regular old thick cut bacon, but this lamb bacon was so good, maybe you should consider some chunks of another cut of lamb. Salt pork is also a great addition. This recipe is extremely versatile (and also a bit vague) so go with your gut and make these beans yours.
Real Baked Beans (adapted from the Diner Journal)
1 pound navy or pinto beans
6 oz. lamb bacon, bacon, or salt pork, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons Coleman’s dry mustard powder
3 bay leaves
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup molasses
1/4 apple cider vinegar
To prepare the beans, rinse well and pick out any duds. Dump them into a large pot, fill with water, add 4 tablespoons salt, bring to a boil, and then cover and cook on low heat for about 4 hours. Check salt levels while the beans cook and add more if needed–add just enough to bring out the flavor. The beans should be cooked through but still have a little bite. Rinse the beans well and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onions for a 3 or 4 minutes, add the garlic and saute a minute more. Add the tomato paste, stir it into the onions, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the mustard, bay, maple syrup, molasses, and vinegar. Add the beans, and stir to incorporate. Add 1 1/2 – 2 cups water–just enough to cover the beans. Turn up the heat and bring everything to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and cover the top of the beans with your bacon. Put a lid on the beans, and put them into the oven. After an hour check water and salt levels, and for doneness, making any needed adjustments. Cook for up to an hour longer as needed.