These beans are quintessential comfort food and have a fabulous flavour made from few ingredients – mostly inexpensive ones at that.
Read the notes at the bottom of the recipe for more information and tips.
500g (1 lb 1oz) haricot beans 3 Tbsp brown sugar 1 Tbsp mild American mustard 2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped Freshly ground black pepper 350g (12oz) bacon bones, rinsed 750g (about 1 lb 2oz) piece pork belly
1 Cover beans in cold water and soak for several hours. Drain and tip into a saucepan. Cover generously with fresh cold water, bring to the boil, remove any scum, then lower heat and cover with a lid. Cook gently for 1 hour, then drain, reserving cooking water. Transfer beans to a large heavy-based casserole.
2 Blend brown sugar, mustard and onions and spoon over beans. Stir well and grind on plenty of black pepper. Pour on enough reserved bean cooking water to just cover beans.
3 Bury bacon bones in beans and put pork belly on top, then push it under beans so that only the skin is showing.
4 Cover casserole with a lid and transfer to the centre of a cold oven. Turn heat to 170°C (325°F) and cook for 3 hours, checking and adding a little more bean water from time to time, if necessary. Remove lid, increase oven temperature to 220°C (425°F) and cook for about 45 minutes, until pork is crackled, adding a little more bean water to keep beans moist if necessary; do not pour the water over the crackling.
5 Transfer pork belly to a board, rest it for 5 minutes, then remove crackling and chop up into pieces, and slice or shred the pork. Remove bacon bones carefully (try to avoid the bacon bones falling apart into small pieces). Dish beans and serve with pork belly and crackling.
This dish is traditionally made with molasses which slows down the cooking of the beans, enabling them to be cooked for hours without breaking up, during which time the meat becomes very tender and gives tremendous flavour to the beans. However, I have tinkered with this and use brown sugar and a simple mix of onions and mustard, along with bacon bones which add a delicious layer of smokiness, and pork belly. The beans are a little more sludgy as a result – but unbelievably tasty! And don’t think the beans look too watery in the pic; by the time you carve up the pork belly, they will have absorbed most of the liquid. If liked, serve the beans in soup bowls (and you could add more reserved cooking water towards the end of cooking to keep them liquidy) and accompany with good dark brown bread and chilled beers – choose something dark and smoky.
My choice to go with the beans? Cavolo nero with a little garlic and chill Cavolo Nero