My house currently smells like awesome. All the windows are steamed up. It’s great.
Baked beans, I think you’d agree, are a traditional staple all down the eastern seaboard of North America. Add a splash of Québec maple syrup to the sweet, dark sauce and serve it with a side of Newfoundland toutons (“TAOW-tuns”), however, and you’ve got yourself a Canadian dish. It all takes quite a bit of time (you have to start by soaking your beans overnight), but it’s worth it to have your house smell this good.
For the Baked Beans:
I cobbled together this bean recipe from three others, which I’ve listed at the bottom of this post. I think baked beans are conceptually pretty fluid, so feel free to experiment on your own.
This recipe also involves some interesting food items that are not usual additions to my refrigerator contents: fatback pork and salt pork. If you can’t find fatback pork or pre-cut scruncheons, you can also deep-fry the toutons in vegetable oil. Here in St. John’s, salt meat, which you can buy in 4L buckets, has its own section in the grocery store, right next to the bologna section. That’s right, bologna section. As in, there are several different kinds and cuts of bologna available to the residents of this lovely city. Luckily I found smaller amounts of fatback pork and salt pork riblets, and was able to get away with just a scant pound of each, rather than having to find a use for a whole bucket of meat. You could probably use a salty ham (Virginia-style) in place of the salt pork if you can’t find it. And of course if you want a vegetarian version of the baked beans, leave out the pork altogether.
Start with about 4 cups dried white navy beans. Rinse them and plop them in a bowl. Cover them with several inches of water and leave them overnight to soak. You may need to add more water as it gets absorbed.
The next day, drain and rinse the beans and plop them in a very large pot with three times their volume of water to cover (so take the bowl the beans were in and fill that sucker three times with water and you should be good).
Plop in 1lb salt pork. Usually this comes on the bone.
Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and let the beans and pork simmer for 40-50 minutes, until they’re all tender and stuff. Scoop out 1 1/2 cups bean cooking water and then drain the rest.
While the beans are simmering, finely chop up 1 large onion.
Plop the onion in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon dry mustard (Keen’s or Colman’s are the traditional versions around here), 2 teaspoons chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and fragrant.
Pour into that 4-156mL cans of tomato paste (that’s about 2 1/3 cups), 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 3/4 cup fancy molasses, and 1/2 cup pure maple syrup. Give that a good stir and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow it to simmer for about 10 minutes. It will bubble like the Thing from the Black Lagoon and get absolutely everywhere, so make sure to cover it.
Pour in the reserved bean cooking water and mix well. You can purée it in a food processor at this point if you wish, but I didn’t bother.
Preheat your oven to 300°F. You could do this earlier but it really doesn’t take long, so there’s no point in having your oven on for such an extended period of time.
Strip the salt pork from its bones and tear it into small pieces before tossing it back in with your drained beans.
Mix the beans and the sauce together.
Pour the mixture into a large casserole dish. Cover and bake for 2-3 hours, then uncover and bake until sauce is thick and the beans are coated, about another hour. Serve hot with toutons, or allow to cool and freeze for later.
For the Toutons:
I pulled the recipe for these weird little Newfoundland doughnuts/dumplings/biscuits from this site. Most of the other recipes I found ended up being exact copies of this one, so I figured it was legit. Toutons are essentially fried white bread dumplings. Most of the time they are served doused with butter and maple syrup. This sounds like a good idea to me. You can buy pre-made touton dough at the gas station down the block from our house. During the summer festival here they have touton-throwing contests. These bready balls are evidently important to Newfoundland culture.
Start by dissolving 1 tablespoon sugar in 1/2 cup warm water. Add in 1 tablespoon traditional yeast. Allow that to stand for 10 minutes, then stir it in until it’s all dissolved.
In a saucepan, scald 1 cup low-fat milk (the recipe called for 2% but we use 1% so I figured that would only save us from an earlier death). Add in 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening and stir until it’s all melted.
To the hot milk, add 1/2 cup cold water, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon sugar.
Make sure the milk mixture is lukewarm and then add the yeast mixture and stir until well-blended.
Add in 2 cups all-purpose flour and stir until it’s all smooth.
Gradually add 3-4 more cups of flour until you have a moist dough that no longer sticks to the bowl.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes.
Shape the dough into a ball and plop it in a greased bowl, turning the ball to grease the top. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and put it somewhere warm and draft-free for the dough to double in size, about an hour.
While you’re waiting, you can make your scruncheons (or scrunchins), which are fried pork back fat.
Mmmm. Like bacon only without the actual pork. So you take your backfat, about 1/4lb, and you cube it up as finely as you can.
This is harder than it looks. Pig backs are tough. Also see the surface of this particular chunk? I’m convinced it was actual skin, because it was a pain to get through, and it fried up almost rock hard. I suggest trimming that off if you can.
Set your raw scruncheons aside for a spell, until your dough is ready.
Punch down the dough and squeeze off pieces about 1/3 cup in size.
Flatten them to about 1/2″ thick, in a circular or triangular shape.
Fry your scruncheons until the solid pieces are golden brown and crisp.
Take them out and lay them on a paper towel.
Fry the toutons in the liquid pork fat until they are golden on both sides, a minute or so per side.
Add a dab of butter to the hot touton, sprinkle with crispy scruncheons, and douse with maple syrup. Serve hot!
Now if you’ll excuse me I am going to go and have a heart attack somewhere.
More Baked Beans: