We have officially eliminated 8 of the original 16 Top Chef Boston contestants, and you know what that means- Restaurant Wars! Like every other Top Chef fan, I love watching 4 people scramble to open a full restaurant in 24-hours. Over the years, some teams have really risen to the occasion and pulled off a great service. Other teams have fallen flat on their face. This year we saw a little bit of both, as Four Pigs soundly defeated the losing restaurant Magellan. And in the spirit of Four Pigs, this week I chose to make my own variation of Executive Chef Doug’s winning dish: beer braised pork and beans.
As with many of the other dishes I have been posting thus far to this blog, this recipe turned out to be a slow-cooker, all day kind of event. One of my biggest challenges when I read a multi-step recipe is I inevitably miss something in the fine print that says “chill overnight” or “rest for 3 hours.” So to better help people get an idea of the time frame required to make this dish, I am going to provide the recipe steps in real time.
First off, let’s talk about what parts of the dish I’m taking a cue from Doug on, and what I decided to make my own. Doug braised his pork in beer, which is what I am also choosing to do. The Bravo website has a recipe that involves braising the beans with pig trotters. I was feeling lazy this week and didn’t make it out to the Filipino market, so I’m going to use bacon in my beans instead. Doug garnished his with pickled red onion and mustard seeds. I’m going to serve mine with pickled okra and jalepenos and then top the whole dish with crispy onion straws. Ready to find out how? Let’s do this!
9:00 am: Dried beans need plenty of time to soak. Dump about 2/3 of a bag of Great Northern beans into a giant pot of water, and let it hang out like that for most of the day.
1:00 pm: Get ready to make pickles! The fact that you can make a pickle out of pretty much any vegetable of your choice is my latest fascination. I love how a vinegary pickle cuts through the richness of a heavy meat dish. For my meal today, I decided to pickle okra, jalepenos, and an Anaheim chili. If you don’t like a lot of heat, I would skip the jalepeno. If the sliminess of okra really grosses you out, you could do a normal English cucumber, or maybe some asparagus. But slime and all, I still thought the okra came out pretty awesome.
OK, for your pickle. Cut all of your veggies into rounds and place them into a clean jar with a couple of bay leaves. Make sure you have the lid that goes with said jar. Bring 1 1/4 cups white vinegar, 1 cup of rum, 1/2 cup honey, 2 tsp. of anise seeds, 2 tsp. mustard seeds, and 1 tsp. of salt to a boil. (Don’t skip the salt! I am a big salt skipper in a lot of things, but for this, you really need it to make a pickle). Once boiling, let it simmer for 5 minutes, then pour the hot liquid (careful!) over your veggies and put the lid on tight. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and then chill in the fridge.
Ideally, it is recommended to make pickles 3 days in advance, but I never think that far ahead. In my experience, they should serve their purpose if they get at least a few hours of pickling in.
2:00 pm: Time to get the dry rub onto the pork. For this dish, I had two picnic pork shoulders, about 3 pounds each. You could also use a pork butt cut. Combine all of the spices into a bowl to make Emeril Lagasse’s Essence Creole Seasoning– which, side note, is SO GOOD I use it on everything- and rub the spice mixture all over the pork. Wrap-up each pork piece in plastic wrap and pop it into the fridge for an hour.
3:00 pm: It’s time for the actual cooking to begin. Preheat an oven to 325 degrees while heating a couple spoons of olive oil in an oven safe pot. Working with one hunk of pork at a time, sear the meat on both sides, then place the pork onto a plate. To the hot oil, add 3 minced cloves of garlic and an onion sliced into half moons. Let those cook until soft and then add the pork back into the pot. This is where it get’s really good- pour 2 bottles of your choice of ale or lager over the pork. I used Arrogant Bastard Ale, but that is mostly because the name made me giggle. You can use whatever you want. Add in a 1/4 cup of molasses. Bring the whole mixture to a boil, then take it off the heat, pop on a cover, and put it in the oven.
Relax for awhile. You earned it.
4:30 pm: Time to check on your beans! Since they have been soaking all day, they should be able to soften up by the time you are ready to eat. Drain all of the beans into a colander and set aside.
In a large pot, brown 4 slices of diced bacon. Once your bacon is looking pretty crispy, add one yellow onion, sliced into half moons. (The shape isn’t actually that important, I just associate baked beans with half moon onions. Plus, I decided to keep all of my knife work consistent throughout the dish). In a mixing bowl, combine 2 bottles of beer (the same beer as the pork or it can be different. We had some Michelob Ultra’s in the fridge that I was never going to drink. Since I hate to be wasteful, I decided to put them to good use). Add 3 tbs molasses, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/2 cup ketchup, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp garlic powder, 3 tbs balsamic vinegar, 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, a dash of salt and pepper, and 1 tsp mustard powder. Stir it all up, and pour the beans and the sauce into the pot. Bring the bean mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer.
And yes, calling these “baked beans” is a little misleading. But my oven was full of pork, so I decided to do a stove top version.
6:00 pm: You’re so close! By now your pork should be pull apart tender. Take it out of the oven, and set it somewhere out of the way to rest.
The final thing to do is make your onion straws. As thin as you can, slice a yellow onion into rings. Combine 2 cups of milk with a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar, and coat your onions. Heat a neutral oil on the stove to about 350 degrees. Don’t have a candy thermometer? Me neither. Let the oil heat up for several minutes, until you are pretty sure it is hot.
In a separate bowl, season 2 cups of flour with a dash of salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Once your oil is hot, work in batches; coat your onions with flour and then plunge them into the oil. Once brown and crispy looking, use a slotted spoon to transfer them out of the oil and onto a paper towel.
You’re done! Check your beans to make sure they are tender, and get ready to plate up your dish!
Spoon a pile of beans on a plate. Top with two or three pieces of pork, sprinkle on some pickled vegetables, and top with onion straws. Amazing!
Yes, it takes some time and effort, but putting in the effort to do all of the steps is worth it, I promise! Plus it makes a metric ton of food, so if it makes you feel better, tomorrow you can take the day off and eat leftovers. Enjoy!