Saturday, March 3, 2012
Tangy Vodka Style Baked Beans OR Bean There Done That
As a kid, there were few things that looked more unpalatable than baked beans. I'd watch my parents scoop the odd colored goopy drippy beans onto their paper plates at numerous summer picnics and think, uhg, no thanks--either that or, please don't make me eat that!
It would appear I've matured since then because few things evoke such a distinct craving now as baked beans, particularly if they have some tang to them. It could have something to do with my adoption of the Boston Red Sox when I was fourteen, if so, I owe them my thanks.
Today, I felt that twang in my stomach for tang, so I pulled up this recipe.
I was reading some cooking blogs and came across this one, Cooking with Vodka, that has a recipe for baked beans with 1/2 cup of vodka. Vodka is essentially without flavor, so why bother cooking with it? Some people may wonder why anyone would pose such a question. Here in Elder in the Kitchen, I ponder these things. It acts as a flavor enhancer. It's like MSG but without the bad reputation or restraining order.
Many foods have flavor compounds that aren't soluble in water, only in alcohol, so a splash of vodka can release those flavor combinations in a way that nothing else can. Vodka and tomatoes are particularly fond of one another.
Since we don't cook with alcohol at EITK, I thought what other flavor could I enhance? Did I mention I like tang? So instead of vodka, I chose to enhance the zip, and added 1/2 cup of white wine vinegar.
2 16 oz cans of your favorite brand of original baked beans
1/3 pound sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch wide strips
(if you use peppered bacon the probably won't need to add more pepper later)
1 medium size Spanish onion, diced (can substitute with a yellow onion)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 cup ketchup
1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon Liquid Smoke
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Invade a 2-quart casserole dish with the beans. You'll want to use an earthenware or glass dish, no metal! Earthenware is preferable as it will hold the heat without burning or allowing the edges to burn. This is important because you'll be opening the oven door frequently to stir the beans and to add the vinegar.
2) Fry the sliced bacon in a skillet over medium heat. The goal is to get the bacon nearly crisp and to render as much of the fat as possible. So no trimming the bacon (as if, am I right? Who's with me? <insert cricket sound>). Using a slotted spoon, scoop the bacon from the skillet and disperse it over the beans.
3) Next, fry the onion in the bacon fat (that's what I'm talking about), stirring until the onion is soft but not brown, I'd say 8 - 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Pour the onion and any remaining fat into the casserole dish and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir well.
4) Put the covered dish in the oven. Plan to let it cook for 2 hours. After about 30 minutes, it will start to bubble and a crust will begin to form. At this point, you'll start stirring the beans every 15 minutes, making sure to scrape the sides. I know, I didn't warn you about the stirring, but trust me, it's worth it.
5) At about the hour and a half mark, add the 1/2 cup of white wine vinegar. If you love the tang like I love the tang then you're good. If you like your tang to be a bit more subtle, cut back to 1/4 cup.
My brother-in-law, who claims he is not a picky eater but just knows what he likes, tasted these and gave them a big thumbs up. In my book, it doesn't get much better than that.
When you add the vinegar it might start to look soupy, but don't fret. Let it cook the remaining time then, take it from the oven and let it stand for at least another 15 minutes before serving. This will allow it to thicken up and get that perfect consistency.
A couple of years ago, we had a great local butchery. Their meat was top notch and they truly knew their stuff. Unfortunately, they fell to hard economic times. Since then, I've kind of forgotten about the butcher in my local grocery store. Too often I come across the prepackaged national brands and forget about my local meat cutter in the corner.
I was standing in front of a refrigerated case boasting a plethora of bacon varieties when my butcher happened by and said, "You know where the best bacon is?" I pointed to his corner and said, "over there?"
"Yep. It costs the same as that stuff, (pointing to what was in my hand) and it's thicker and tastier. In fact, if you don't like it better, then I'll give you a pack of that (he would not even deign to speak it's name) for free."
So I did. And he was right.