The deep flavour and creamy texture of Boston baked beans is the product of simple, yet judiciously chosen ingredients and slow—very slow—cooking. It seemed a natural recipe to adapt to the slow cooker and, given our location, we were under pressure to get this recipe just right.
We wanted our slow-cooker “baked” beans to have all the flavour and texture of the real deal and began by determining the correct ratio of water to beans. Once we had evenly tender beans throughout we focused on building flavour with traditional ingredients—salt pork, onion, molasses, brown sugar, and bay leaves went into the slow cooker.
The flavour was decent but not deep enough and the texture of the salt pork was not appealing. We decided it was necessary to pull out a skillet to render the fat from the salt pork and soften the onion first, which made the salt pork palatable and greatly intensified the flavours of the dish.
To brighten things up at the end of cooking, spicy mustard and a splash of cider vinegar went in, along with a touch more molasses to round out the acidity. Don’t use dark or blackstrap molasses, which will become bitter tasting in the slow cooker. Be sure to let the beans sit and finish thickening for 10 minutes before serving.
BOSTON BAKED BEANS
Start to finish: 8 to 9 hours on high
Slow cooker size: 4 to 7 quarts
1 onion, chopped fine
6 ounces salt pork, rind removed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
6 cups water, plus extra as needed
1 pound dried navy beans (2 1/2 cups), picked over and rinsed
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon molasses
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 teaspoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons dry mustard
Microwave onion, salt pork, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in bowl, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes; transfer to slow cooker. Stir in water, beans, 2 tablespoons molasses, 2 tablespoons sugar, and bay leaves. Cover and cook until beans are tender, 8 to 9 hours on high.
Discard bay leaves. Drain beans, reserving 3/4 cup cooking liquid. Return beans to now-empty slow cooker. Stir in reserved cooking liquid, soy sauce, vinegar, mustard, remaining 3 tablespoon molasses, and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Cover and cook on high until beans are thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.