Saturday, July 14, 2012

Spicy Baked Beans with Chorizo

I have a confession to make.

I really don't like baked beans.

I know, it doesn't make sense to me either. I love beans. LOVE them.  White beans, black beans, frijoles...I make (and eat) beans all the time, and I never get tired of them. And I absolutely adore cassoulet, which is basically a French version of baked beans with plenty of meat. But there is something about regular baked beans that just turns me right off.

When I was a kid, summers with my relatives in Maine meant a lot of traditional New England fare - which of course included hot dogs and beans with brown bread on Saturdays. I would eat as much brown bread as I could get, and a hot dog or two was okay as long as there was plenty of mustard involved. But I could really never get the beans down - and I was not by any stretch of the imagination a picky eater. I loved absolutely everything else they threw at me. Fried mackerel ? Oh hells yes !  But the beans...too sweet, too mushy, and not much flavor...really, just nothing to redeem them, particularly if there was brown bread left that needed eating :) I would push the beans around on my plate, delaying as long as possible - then slip them to Sput (the dog) when no one was looking.

Wow, I feel much better getting that off my chest. Confession really is good for the soul !

It was only when I got older and more experienced that I realized that homemade baked beans could actually be pretty tasty. I still don't like the ones that try to replicate the canned flavor (to me, I can't imagine why anyone would try and replicate that !), but there are some baked beans that make for very tasty eating. It's taken me a while to find a recipe that I really love, though - and one that I wanted to share with my readers. This is definitely The One.

This is another of my adaptations of a Cooking Light recipe (original here) . There's nothing wrong with Cooking Light recipes, though I know that it seems I adapt them all the time. What happens is I see something in the magazine or on the website that gets my wheels turning - but of course, my wheels turn a little differently than most :) Here, for example, I knew I wanted to use our bean pot (picture at top), which I loved the idea of when we got it but has ended up being mostly a decorative element since we received it as a gift many, many years ago. I also knew I wanted different spicing, including "blooming" the spice a little (basically toasting them in oil, which does beautiful things to them)...well, you see where this is going. And where it went !

One idea I kept (and loved) from the original was the use of chorizo instead of salt pork, which is the traditional flavoring for baked beans. There's nothing wrong with salt pork - I always have some around for chowder making, or to render for other nefarious pork fat schemes. But chorizo and beans...mmm, definitely a match made in heaven. Chorizo, for those unfamiliar with it, is a lovely Spanish sausage, redolent with rich pork and the warm flavor of paprika. There are two basic versions of chorizo - one is a dry sausage similar to a pepperoni, which can be eaten as is. The other is a fresh version (usually Mexican or Portuguese in origin), closer texture-wise to Italian sausage which must be cooked before eating. Most supermarkets carry the fresh version, but this recipe called for the dry one which I was able to find at Russo's.

The fresh version would probably work, but you'll want to cook it a little longer before proceeding with the recipe - and you should drain some of the fat before  moving on, as well. Love the pork fat and all, but you want to be able to taste the beans here too !

One last note I want to add here is about the spices. You'll notice that I swapped in dried spices for the, I'm not crazy and yes, I absolutely love fresh spices and use them whenever I can. But for hours-long cooking with beans, I've found that the dried actually hold up much better than the fresh. I've also included two somewhat harder to find items - smoked salt and smoked paprika. My stash came from Christina's in Inman Square (sadly, no website) but I realize not everyone is as...insane as I am when it comes to kitchen stocking (though I have noticed that more supermarkets are stocking at least the smoked paprika). By all means, feel free to make this dish with regular salt and paprika (though the smoked stuff is really good and useful in all sorts of dishes). It will still be super yummy....definite Culinary Orgasm !

The rest of dinner, clockwise from left  - andouille, cornbread, beans, cucumber salad. Middle of plate : brisket 

Spicy Baked Beans with Chorizo  

1 pound dried Great Northern beans (2  1/2 cups)
1 dry-cured Spanish chorizo, diced (about 8 oz)
4 cups chopped onion
4 – 6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt (smoked, if you have it) 
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon regular paprika (swap in some hot paprika if you have it and you want things spicier)  
1 bay leaf  
1 ½ cups beer ( 12 oz)
1 ½ cups water , plus extra to cover beans if needed
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons ketchup  
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Soak beans overnight in accordance with package directions (or use quick-soak method on bag.) Drain; do not rinse.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add chorizo; cook 4 minutes or until fat begins to render. Add onion and garlic; sauté 10 minutes or until tender. Add oregano, thyme, salt, cumin, paprika(s) and bay leaf; stir in with onions  and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until you can really smell the spices. Add beans, beer and water - adding additional water if needed so the liquid just barely covers the beans - and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes or until beans are just tender.

Preheat oven to 300°. Stir brown sugar, tomato paste, molasses and ketchup into bean mixture.  Cover (or transfer to bean pot);  bake at 300° for 4 hours or until beans are very tender and sauce is thick. Remove from oven; stir in vinegar and serve.

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