For many people, a big pot of baked beans fresh from the oven is the ultimate in comfort food: hot, juicy, and spicy-sweet, filling the kitchen with delectable aromas and your plate with the taste of home.
The problem is, turning out a slow-cooked baked bean dish just like Grandma’s can be quite a challenge in a make-it-fast microwave world. But while there’s no getting around the fact that making baked beans from scratch is the antithesis of fast food, the process is a simple one that requires more patience than expertise.
No matter how good your recipe is, the final success of the dish depends to a great extent on getting the preliminaries right and that means selecting, sorting, and soaking. Get this part right and you’re halfway there.
Step One: Buy The Right Beans. All dried beans bake well, but the flavors and textures of different types vary considerably, so if you’re really interested in replicating Grandma’s recipe you need to know (or find out) what type she used. If that’s not possible, you’re probably safe with Navy or Great Northern beans, which are the types most commonly used for baking.
Step Two: Sort. Packages of dried beans often include tiny stones, so before putting your beans to soak, rinse and remove any non-bean bits. Don’t skip this step – those little stones can do a lot of dental damage.
Step Three: Soaking. Put the rinsed and sorted beans into large pot and cover with water. A 3:1 ratio of water to beans (six cups of water for two cups of beans) is a good guideline, but precise measurements aren’t important. Just make sure there are a few inches of water above the beans, because they’re going to soak a lot of it up and increase in size by about three times; one cup of dried beans will be about three cups of beans after they’ve been soaked.
How long to soak? Preferences vary, but the length of the soaking time will definitely effect the texture of the finished dish. Again, if you know how long Granny soaked her beans you’re a step closer to replicating them, but if you’re on your own start with the idea of soaking them a minimum of six hours or even overnight. If you’re in a hurry you can bring the beans to a boil, remove them from the heat, and let them soak in the hot water for two hours.
When the soak is done, you’re ready to cook. This is where the preparations end and the recipe comes in, but generally you’ll want to start by pouring off the soaking water and covering the beans with fresh water. Bring to a boil, then simmer gently for 60 to 90 minutes or as specified by your recipe.
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