Québécois Pork and Beans

When I was growing up, baked beans were the standard Saturday night fare. My father told of how as a boy in a mostly French Canadian mill town in Connecticut it was his job on Saturday morning to take the bean pot his mother had prepared to the neighborhood bakery where it would cook in the baker’s oven all day. Leftover baked beans are still a Sunday breakfast staple in New England.

Although baked beans are often associated with Boston, the origin of the dish is most likely French, deriving from the cassoulet popular in the south of that country. Unlike Boston baked beans that usually contains only a small piece of salt pork fat for flavoring, Québécois fèves au lard contain a hearty quantity of leaner salt pork known as petit sales, similar to the pickled pork popular in Louisiana. (You can use store-bought salt pork but use less because it is so fatty.) In some parts of the province a partridge or chicken breast is tucked into the beans along with the pork.

A note on soaking: although many cookbooks advise soaking dried beans overnight, authorities differ about whether it is really necessary. Mexicans and other meso-Americans, who were eating phaseolus beans long before the Spanish introduced them to Europe, do not soak them. The theory that soaking reduces any “side effects” of eating beans is thoroughly discredited. So, I never soak dried beans.

Ingredients

 

Navy beans, dry

1 pound

500 grams

Water

8 cups

2 liters

Pickled pork or salt pork

12 ounces

350 grams

Onion, chopped

8 ounces

225 grams

Mustard, dry

1 teaspoon

5 milliliters

Black pepper, ground (optional)

1 teaspoon

5 milliliters

Molasses*

½ cup (5 ounces)

125 milliliters (140 grams)

Brown sugar*

¼ cup

55 grams

 

* In northern New England and Québec these beans are often made with maple syrup. In place of the molasses and brown sugar use ¾ cup (175 milliliters) of grade B maple syrup, if you can find it, or grade A dark amber.

METHOD

Rinse beans and pick through for any stones or defective beans. Put them into a large pot with the cold water, bring to boil, and simmer over low heat, partially covered, for about an hour. Or cook in a pressure cooker at 15 psi (100 kiloPascals) for 15 minutes. Wait a few minutes before releasing the pressure according to manufacturer’s instruction.

Preheat oven to 250°F (120°C). Drain the beans reserving the cooking liquid, and place them in a bean pot or casserole with a cover (I use a 3-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven). Cut the pork into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes and add to the beans along with the onions, molasses, brown sugar, mustard, and pepper. (If using store-bought salt pork, leave it whole then slice it when the beans are done.) Pour in enough of the reserved cooking liquid, to cover the beans then fold everything together. Save any remaining cooking liquid in case the beans start to dry and need more liquid.

Cover the pot and bake for 6 to 8 hours. Check occasionally to ensure the beans are not drying out and add reserved liquid or water as needed. Uncover for the last hour of cooking.

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