White beans are one of my favorite things to eat. Whether they are Cannellini or Navy or Great Northern, I love them all. Up to now, I’ve always made them the simple way my mom always has. I soak them overnight and then boil them gently in water, adding carrot and potato chunks during the last 20 minutes of cooking. Steve and I have always loved eating big bowlfuls of them, generously drizzled with olive oil and with ample amounts of freshly squeezed lemon juice. We both love the broth that the beans make when they cook, as it mixes with the olive oil, lemon juice and salt in our bowls. We always drink it all up after finishing our beans. When I told my mom, who always serves the cooked beans drained from their broth, that we love to drink it she was surprised. “But it smells like farts!” she said with a disgust in her voice.
But now I have a new favorite way to cook beans: baking them in beer. I’ve had this recipe for beer-baked beans bookmarked for a long time but I didn’t get around to trying it out until a couple of weeks ago. The beans cook in the oven in a covered pot, along with onions and garlic that have been sautéed in bacon fat, some rosemary, mustard, and honey. The result is a pot of beans that are cooked beautifully and with amazing complexity in flavor. There’s the bacon fat of course, which adds saltiness and plenty of umami, but also the mustard and honey that counterbalance each other (much like in honey mustard), and the rosemary to give it an herbal kick. Topping the bowl of beans with the crisp pieces of bacon that were used to render the bacon fat for the onions and garlic is the final touch that rounds everything out in both flavor and texture. And this bean broth is irresistible (it definitely smells nothing like farts mom!), the result of beer, chicken stock, and bacon coming together.
Beer-Baked White Beans with Bacon and Rosemary – Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes 4-6 servings
6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
1 yellow onion, diced small
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1-2 sprigs rosemary
1 pound dried white beans, such as Great Northern or cannellini, picked over, soaked overnight, and drained
2 bottles Belgian-style white ale (12 ounces each), such as Blue Moon or Hoegaarden
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 350º F. In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, cook bacon over medium heat until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp and browned, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Increase heat to medium-high; add onion and garlic to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add mustard and honey; stir and cook 1 minute. Add rosemary, beans, beer, and broth; season with salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil; cover and transfer to oven.
Bake until beans are tender and most of liquid is absorbed, about 1½-2 hours. Season to taste with vinegar, salt, and pepper. To serve, stir in reserved cooked bacon.