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Boston Baked Pork and Beans

Boston Baked Pork and Beans


As a born and bred New Englander, I'll admit my bias when I declare our Boston Baked Beans to be the greatest baked beans in the world. Many folks in this area of the country have sat down on a Saturday evening to a traditional dinner of franks and Boston baked beans. (Some lucky folks have even had original New England Brown Bread to accompany it!) But, lately, I've discovered that this same recipe can be used in a manner somewhat less traditional, to produce a huge pot of pork and beans with the amount of pork actually equal to the beans, if not fully surpassing it. Meat lovers fall over themselves for a sandwich of barbequed pulled pork…but here, we can use the recipe for Boston baked beans to produce a huge pulled pork shoulder with a taste that is truly unique!

Pans needed: A large bowl to marinate the pork roast, and a second large bowl to soak the beans; plus a medium to large sized bowl to prepare the spices. Use a heavy lidded pot for slow cooking, such as a beanpot or a cast iron dutch oven. You may want to use an especially huge pot for this one! (But, be certain the pot will fit into your oven!)

The traditional method for preparing Boston baked beans requires a lot of time: the beans need to be soaked overnight, and when they've been prepared they will need to be baked, alongside and beneath the pork, in a 260 degree (Fahrenheit) oven for eight to ten hours.

Use a Salt Brine

The traditional method of soaking beans is to simply cover them with water and soak them overnight. This easy method usually works well, but there are times when the beans don't soften – especially if you're in an area where the local tap water is "hard" mineral-rich water. This is why I recommend soaking the beans in salt water. There's a popular belief that salt water will harden the beans, but foodie blogs and YouTube videos have demonstrated this to be incorrect: the salt water breaks down the hard shell of the beans and softens them, so that after the beans are cooked they'll be soft and chewy, with the right consistency – but not mash.

For each pound of beans, add one quart of cool-to-warm tap water; it doesn't need to be ice water, but it can't be hot water. (Hot water would begin cooking the beans prematurely.) To the water, add two teaspoons of table salt for each quart of water. Mix it all together for a few seconds to evenly distribute the beans and the dissolve the salt. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set it on your counter to soak for twelve hours.

Don't put the beans in the refrigerator; the cold air in the fridge keeps the beans from softening. If the beans soak too long, they spoil and smell terrible; which is why a 12-hour soak works just about right. (If you're worried about them contracting bacteria when soaking on the countertop, the 10 to 12 hour cook in the oven at 250 or 260 degrees will take care of that.) The beans will expand as they soak, which is why the additional water is needed.

I've made this dish using soybeans rather than navy beans. The result was excellent: the soybeans retained their firmness and didn't turn into mush during the long, slow cook. However, soybeans are very tough and they take a long time to prepare. If you're using soybeans, you'll need to soak the beans for twelve hours. Drain the beans and don't save the water. Add the beans to a saucepan large enough to fit, and cover the beans with water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and simmer the beans for a further three to four hours. This will soften the beans to the point where they can be used in this dish. Drain the beans and discard the water again, and use fresh water (or chicken broth) to cover the beans.

Slow-Cook the Beans

As soon as you've begun soaking the beans, prepare the baked bean sauce. This needs to be done at the beginning of preparation, so you'll also be able to marinate the pork roast overnight before baking. In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar, molasses, salt, pepper, dry mustard, tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, and cloves. (This mixture makes a decent barbeque sauce, as well!)

Rinse off the pork, and pat it dry with paper towels. Place the pork roast into a separate, large bowl. Take a small but sharp knife, such as a paring knife, and cut several slits in the fat cap on the underside of the pork shoulder. This will help the marinade soak through the fat and into the meat. Pour about 1/3 of the bean sauce into the bowl, and coat the entire pork shoulder with the sauce. Cover the bowl, place it in the refrigerator, and marinate the meat while the beans are soaking. The remaining bean sauce can also be stored in the refrigerator until the beans are ready.

After soaking the beans for 12 hours, After soaking the beans, drain the bowl with a colander. Don't reserve the soaking liquid. Discard the salt water. The amount of salt used here is low enough that you won't have to rinse off the beans after draining them; but the bean water itself will be too salty.

Preheat your oven to 260 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice the bacon into small pieces or cubes. Peel and chop the onion.

Arrange the beans in a cast iron dutch oven of at least 6 to 8 quart size. Spread a layer of beans across the bottom of the pot, then lay the bacon and onions on top. Cover the bacon and onions entirely with the remaining beans. Pour the remaining baked bean sauce over the beans, and mix them all together.

Pour in enough fresh water (or tap water) to fully cover the beans. plus a bit more. You can also chicken broth, water or both. It will look as though there is far too much liquid in the pot, but this will work fine.

An optional step here is to heat up a heavy skillet on your stovetop, and sear the pork shoulder on all sides until the outside is browned. It's not absolutely necessary to sear the pork first, but this gives an additional flavor to the dish that you won't want to miss!

Place the pork roast into the pot, on top of the beans, with the fat cap facing UP on top. This will allow the fat to melt and meld into the meat and the beans; also, the excess fat will be easy to remove off the top when the pork and beans have finished cooking. Scrape the remaining bean sauce from the pork marinade bowl over the top of the pork roast, and spread it all around to coat the surface of the roast.

Cover your dutch oven with a heavy iron lid. Bake for at least 9 to 12 hours in the preheated oven at 260 degrees Fahrenheit, until the beans are tender. Cooking longer than 8 hours is fine; I've often prepared these beans at 7:00 or 7:30 PM in the evening, and cooked them in the oven until 5:00 AM the next morning in order to take them in to work. The important part is making sure the beans don't dry out and become hard! With practice, I've found a time of between nine and ten hours seems to produce the best results for thoroughly cooked beans.

When the cooking is finished and the pot is uncovered for the first time, you'll see a sight to behold – as seen in the photo above. The pork will be so tender, the bones can be pulled right out of the meat with no difficulty at all. Use a tongs to pull the bones out, as they will be very hot and may burn your bare hands. When the bones are removed, use the tongs, or another utensil such as a shallow ladle or spatula, to scrape the fat off the top of the pork. The fat can be reserved in a bowl or other dish, and used to cook with a different dish; this fat will add magnificent flavor to anything you care to make with it. If you try to lift the entire pork shoulder out of the pot, be ready for it to fall apart in large pieces. The pork is so thoroughly cooked, it separates into pieces with the slightest effort. Once the pork has been set into a serving dish or bowl, shred it with two forks.

The beans can be served out of the pot, or also moved into a separate serving basin. Use a slotted spoon to remove or serve the beans, so the excess liquid and grease will remain in the pot.

A YouTube video on the making of this dish: Boston Baked Pork and Beans

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