I think that the basic instinct that gets us in the kitchen “after all those messy sustenance issues have been attended to” is a deep-seated desire to make something taste a little better than the way we’ve come to accept it. It’s why there are ten thousand crab cake recipes and a line of followers behind each, and it’s why everyone has an idea carved into their base philosophy of the way corn bread is supposed to taste (and most of it fails to please because it’s not as savory/rich, sweet/cakey or textural/salty as they believe pone was intended to be). I’d also argue that this is why few bother to make their own ketchup, as Heinz figured out a long time ago what most of us expect of it and why reinvent the wheel?
I’m pretty sure it’s why this summer I’ve become obsessed bordering-on-frenzied with figuring out how to make all those American BBQ classics unboring. Somewhere along the line, barbeque sauce started tasting like tangy corn syrup, coleslaw started tasting like soggy dullsville, potato salad became a boiled-tuber-floating-in-eggy-oil cop-out, and baked beans became wretchedly sweet and uniform, each crying out for some innovation. But today, I’m starting with the beans.
And what beans they are! These chipotle baked beans are everything your last can of baked beans thought it was going be when it grew up. They’re spicy and complex and dramatic. They were also finished in two meals, and we sang the “beans, beans” song the whole time. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Hot and Smoky Baked Beans
Bon Appetit, July 1999
6 bacon slices*
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/4 cups purchased barbecue sauce
3/4 cup dark beer
1/4 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard 3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 to 6 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chilies**
6 15- to 16-ounce cans Great Northern beans, drained
Chopped fresh parsley***
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Transfer to paper towels and drain. Transfer 2 1/2 tablespoons bacon drippings from skillet to large bowl. Finely chop bacon; add to bowl. Add onion and next 7 ingredients to bowl and whisk to blend. Whisk in 4 to 6 teaspoons chipotle chilies, depending on spiciness desired. Stir in beans. Transfer bean mixture to 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Bake uncovered until liquid bubbles and thickens slightly, about 1 hour. Cool 10 minutes.
* So, this is where I admit that despite my love of all things salty and pork-ful, I skipped the the bacon. [Blashphemy!] Even the best of bacon gets a leathery unappetizing texture when in a wet base for a period of time, thus, it was omitted.
** And this is where I warn you, in italics no less, that this is a LOT of chipotle. I used 1 (one!) large one in the whole dish and it was tres spicy. Add what you see fit, but I’d suggest sparingly.
*** Might have forgotten this; the world did not end.