recipe

Credit: EARL CARTER

Add smoked ham hock for the best baked beans

Canned baked beans get a bad rap, and there’s a reason for that. To start with, they are rarely baked. They’re stewed beans, which sounds as appetising as they are. Save for the lumps, there’s little in the tin you wouldn’t find in a can of coke. 

The last time I ate canned baked beans was after arriving in the middle of the night at a beach shack, too late for shops or real food. It is the ultimate mystery, arriving at a holiday rental and seeing what you can find to eat. In this instance, the stale cayenne pepper was more enjoyable than the beans.

It’s a sad reputation baked beans have acquired, because the principles are terrific and firmly grounded in the tradition of cassoulet. But the dish was taken from France and left to mutate over generations in North America. Ethnically, this puts canned beans in the realm of Jim Carrey and the Baldwins. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. In this recipe, I use a smoked ham hock for flavour, which I would equally use in a cassoulet. Half a smoked chicken could easily be used instead. Although this is often seen as a breakfast, it works just as well served at dinner alongside a roast joint of meat or some winter vegetables. The addition of a poached egg would just as well take it back the other side of midday.

I try to source the smallest cannellini beans, for their thinner skins. Other beans can be used but I prefer cannellini for their texture and mild flavour. One thing that could be done to this recipe would be letting it out with a light stock and some parmesan cheese to make a very pleasing soup.

The key to having evenly cooked and tender beans is to soak them well overnight and to give them a long slow cook. This is where the term baked originated. For best results the beans are baked in a slow oven for several hours, rather than on a stovetop. On a stovetop there is a greater possibility the beans will accidentally reach a boil and break down rather than maintaining their plump physique. Which is another way of looking at Daniel Baldwin’s career.

Baked beans

Serves 4

– 1 smoked ham hock

– 1 cup dried white beans, soaked in water overnight

– ½ brown onion, diced

– 1 clove garlic, sliced

– 2 tbsp grapeseed oil

– ½ tsp smoked paprika

– ½ tsp brown sugar

– 2 tbsp brandy

– 100ml white wine

– 1 tin diced tomatoes

– 1 tsp tomato paste

– 2 sprigs fresh thyme

– 1 bay leaf

– salt

– freshly ground pepper

– 1 tbsp red wine vinegar 

Place the ham hock in a large saucepan and cover it with cold water. Bring the water to the boil then lower the heat and simmer the hock until it is tender – about one-and-a-half hours.

Preheat your oven to 140ºC.

Cover the drained beans in cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for five minutes and drain. Meanwhile, in an ovenproof saucepan, gently sauté the onion and garlic in two tablespoons of grapeseed oil until soft. Add the paprika and sugar and fry for one minute. Add the brandy and reduce it by half. Next, add the white wine and reduce by half again. Add the drained beans, tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme sprigs and bay leaf and enough of the ham hock stock to just cover the beans.

Bring the beans to a simmer, cover with a tight-fitting lid and place in the oven. Meanwhile, pick the hock meat from the bone. Continue cooking until the beans are meltingly tender but not disintegrating – about one hour. Add the meat to the simmering beans and continue to cook for five minutes. As the beans cook, add more of the pork hock stock as required. 

Season the beans with salt, plenty of freshly ground pepper and the cabernet vinegar.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 29, 2015 as "Add hock". Subscribe here.

Andrew McConnell
is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.