I have to say that I have always hated Baked Beans – there was something about the grainy texture of the beans and the sweetness that never appealed to me. And then I started making them myself and now I can balance the sweet with the savory more effectively. My lovely Cooking Down East by Marjorie Standish (after her long time column in the Maine Sunday Telegram since 1948, the collection came out in 1969) points me in classic directions. Though sometimes the shortcuts of the time are less than appealing like canned soup additions, Accent, but it’s not as bad as some of my other collections which feature Velveeta, Ritz crackers, etc. However, if a recipe has lard in it, I’m there. I have been known to get a little wild and crazy in the past and have thrown in Garlic and Ginger and even a little deep Chili to my beans, but this is a more traditional approach. Remember you need a long cooking time to make these just right (though you can speed up the process if needed by either cooking beans on stovetop for an hour before baking; bring drained soaked or parboiled beans with 8 cups water to a boil for 2 minutes, then simmer 1 hour. Add the rest of ingredients plus more water if needed to another boil, then bake for 3 hours).
Our beans change a bit with what we have around but I try and keep Salt Pork on hand, Molasses and Maple, sometimes Apple Cider syrup. The beans are what I have on hand, as well, like Pinto or better yet Maine Marfax beans or Yellow-Eye or Soldier if that’s what I have. Marjorie says a good Brown Bread and Pickles accompany nicely, as well as Fish Cakes if you desire something to cut the richness and add a hearty addition.
I’ve come across many a fish cake recipe that makes this process a little too complicated. I think what makes a great fish cake is simplicity though that is not to say you can’t substitute the fish: I use thawed frozen cod or haddock here but fresh is generally best, however, even can tuna or salmon could work, classic recipes (like Marjorie’s) use Salt Cod, and even smoked fish (you just don’t want an oily fish), and can even swap crab or lobster or small Maine clams or Maine shrimp. Adding herbs and maybe even a little chili powder ups your game (if you are a stickler for companion-cooking, add a little dry mustard, or just serve with a mustardy aioli or Tartar sauce). Frying with a little Lard is exceptional but as long as your cooking oil is made for higher heat and Non-GMO, you’ll have success here (for added flavor that’s not lard, consider adding a little butter or ghee to your oil while sautéing, and they also bake really well – put a little oil on a sheetpan, then drizzle a little more oil on top of the cakes to help them brown/crisp, flip if you like). For me it’s more about the pan and a strong little spatula – cast iron, either well-seasoned or ceramic-glazed works best for keeping the cakes from sticking and patience – just leaving them alone until they are ready to be turned.
Perfect for hanging out around the Sugar Shack. I think we’ll make an Apple Cake, too, just to have something else to ladle a little fresh hot syrup onto (I just got chills thinking about it – yesssss). Beans set well for a couple of days, deepening the flavors and leftover Fish Cakes for a Sunday brunch or Monday Pita lunch doesn’t sound too bad either. Enjoy!
Maine Baked Beans
1 lb Dry Beans (2 cups), a kind that will retain its shape/be tender after long cooking
1/2 lb Salt Pork, cut into lardons (or Bacon or 4 Tbsp Veg oil)
2 cups Yellow or Sweet Onions, finely chopped (optional)
2 firm tart Apples, chopped (optional)
1/4 cup Molasses
1/4 cup Dark Rum (optional)
1/4 cup Maple Syrup (or Brown Sugar if needed & nowhere near New England/Canada)
2 tsp Kosher Salt
1 tsp Dry Mustard, ground
1 big sprig of Sage or Thyme (dry or fresh, Rosemary or Marjoram could work nicely, too)
1/2 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Rinse and check for stones or any less than stellar beans then soak overnight in a large pot or bowl with enough cold water to cover beans 1″. If you forget or cannot soak them you can parboil them (cover with 2″ water in pot, bring to boil for 2 min. put a lid on them and let sit for 1 hour.) Drain beans.
Preheat oven 300 degrees. In a heavy bottom pot (one that can go from stovetop to oven is best but you can separate all of these if needed), fry Lardons gently to render their fat and brown up any meat bits (but not crunchy crispy), add Onions and Apples if using and saute until they are softened. Add beans, herb, mustard, black pepper, and half the salt with 3 cups of water, cover and bake.
After 3 hours, check water levels and add more if needed (generally a cup at a time), add molasses/rum/maple and rest of salt. Cook up to another 3 hours or as needed, check hourly for water levels and tenderness. During the last hour of baking you can also uncover to brown up top of beans. Sweeten with more Maple and S&P to taste.
These reheat and freeze well for any leftovers, too (and are great the next morning with an egg on top!).
Down East Fish Cakes
Serves 4-5 as side
1 lb Cod (fresh or frozen/thawed, Haddock/Maine shrimp/clams, crab/lobster, can fish)
4-5 Medium Yukon Gold or starchy Potato, unpeeled, cut into 2″ chunks
Sea Salt & Cracked Black Pepper
1 Large farm fresh Egg
1 tsp fresh or dried minced Parsley or Tarragon or Lemon Balm
1-2 cups Panko bread crumbs (optional)
If using thawed or fresh Cod, put in a shallow pot or deep saute pan with potatoes and enough cold water to just barely cover. Bring to a soft boil and cook until potatoes are tender and fish is flaky. Drain then add to bowl.
Mash with a fork the Fish and Potatoes together with herbs/S&P, and Egg. Scoop with a tablespoon; flatten and shape into small patties (about the size of the bottom of a 1/2 pint Mason jar). Slide onto a platter as is, or onto a plate with Panko crumbs (press down lightly to help the Panko adhere to the patties) and then to a platter until ready to fry.
Back in the cleaned deep saute pan, have 1/4″ hot melted Lard or a mix of Oil/Butter ready. Fry patties until crusty golden brown on both sides – flipping once about 2-3 minutes in(but do try and wait, if you try and flip too early they will fall apart). Serve with aioli or Tartar sauce and alongside a nice warm bowl of Baked Beans.
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