Two things struck me after visiting the Pitt Cue Co last week. Firstly, it’s most delightful to be able to drink cocktails on the South Bank in the midst of people on half term. Secondly, pork fat makes everything better. I’m not especially enamoured of baked beans. I rarely ate them as a child, repulsed by their sickly sweetness, lurid orange tang and ability to make everything else on the plate soggy.Spending several months in Boston didn’t even convert me since I was a vegetarian at the time and couldn’t actually sample the porked-up version. My ephipany came when I tried the root beer beans on the side of Pitt Cue Co pulled pork last week. Even though they are kidney beans, which I hate, the taste was so good I found myself calling in to buy some unsoaked haricot beans on the way home so keen was I to have them again, preferably in a larger portion…
I soaked two cups of beans overnight, boiled them for about ten minutes and then simmered them for about an hour until almost cooked. You need a bit of bite left on them so you don’t turn them to pulp when slow cooking them with the liquid and flavourings. I then read a lot of recipes for root beer beans online and ignored all of them since they all seemed to suggest simply flavouring up a tin of ready prepared beans in the oven.
Instead, I cut the fat off a monster spare rib pork chop from Walters Butchers in Herne Hill and rendered it down to get fat in the pan, adding some carefully hoarded bacon fat and sauteeing the chopped onion til soft. I added in three cloves of roasted garlic (I’m in the habit of doing a bulb when the oven is on and keeping it in the fridge til needed) and then heated the beans through to soak up the porky oniony goodness properly.
I then made a sauce of an entire tube of tomato puree, some tomato juice, a whole tin of A&W root beer (look for it in your local Chinese supermarket and don’t buy diet stuff), three teaspoons of black treacle, two of mustard, some paprika, a few allspice berries, a good slug of cider vinegar and a serious splosh of Worcestershire Sauce and some seasoning and mixed it all together to cover the beans well and popped them in the oven at about 170℃ and cooked them for about an hour with the lid on to completely soften the beans and then for half an hour with the lid off to thicken up the sauce before leaving them to cool overnight to infuse all the flavours completely. I then served the beans warmed through with the remains of the pork chop on the side.
And they were more than worth the wait. In fact, I preferred them to the originals, partly because I don’t really like kidney beans and partly because these tasted more of root beer to me which I adore. The beans were tender and the sauce was a gorgeous combo of tangy tomato, barbeque-esque root beer and smoky paprika, all brought together by the silken joys of pork fat. They were miles from the tinned ones I so dislike. The beans still had bite and the sauce was not too sweet and packed with flavour rather being just blandly orange and wet.
These are a grown up bean, perfect with pork, stunning on some grilled sourdough and just the thing to stuff a baked potato for lunch, yet I imagine kids adoring them all the same. Do not hesitate to whip up a batch of these beauties while the weather has cooled off and you don’t mind having the oven on for a while. They’ll either warm you up or can be frozen until you want to use them as an amazing side dish for a barbeque. Spike them with cayenne pepper or serve them with a Coca-Cola ham for extra pork-tastic kitsch! You’ll never think to drink a can of soda again when it tastes this good cooked…
*For the slow cooker, don’t cook the beans first and put it all in the slow cooker on low for 8 hours. Easy peasy!