Thursday, December 16, 2010

How to: Cook Beans on Toast

Beans on toast. The toast is blackened to taste
I'm often tempted to write about food, not least because I am often set a-droolin' by @NoLoveSincerer*, but the thing is... I'm rubbish at it. Or, rather, I'm lazy at it, which makes me rubbish. But, I suddenly realised, surely there's an opening for blogging about lazy food? There are loads of blogs about posh food, whether that's making it, eating it or taking photos of it, but not a lot about lazy, bog standard, fill-yer-guts grub.

And what could be lazier or boggier standard than the baked bean? For those who have either lived under a rock or hail from across the pond**, baked beans are pre-cooked haricot beans mixed with a tomato sauce. They are packed in tins and are a staple student food due to their cheapness and the ease with which they can be prepared.

Cooking the beans
This is the really easy bit. The other bits range from 'easy' to 'a bit less easy' depending on what you have to hand, personal preferences and how much you dislike washing up.
There are three main ways you can cook beans, but any method is great so long as you end up with them in an edible state afterwards.

1. Microwave them.
This is probably the preferred method for most, being the quickest and easiest. Simply empty the tin into a microwavable bowl (don't microwave them in the tin because it's metal and whilst microwaving metal things can be dangerously pretty, it's also pretty dangerous and more than a bit stupid), pop into the microwave and nuke 'em for a couple of minutes, checking and stirring a couple of times on the way. A recommended option here is to cover the bowl as beans have a non-porous skin and therefore a habit of exploding when microwaved.

2. Saucepan them.
Open the can, pour into a saucepan and cook for a few minutes until hot. The pros of this method in comparison to microwaving them are that the beans are cooked more gently and seem to taste a bit nicer for it, and you can simmer for a bit to thicken up the sauce if you think that you would like that. The cons include a slower cooking time and more washing up.

3. Don't cook them.
O.k, so not cooking them is not technically cooking them, but it's an option to explore. Baked beans are perfectly edible cold although a fair number of people don't seem to like them that way. The advantages of this method of preparation are that it's super quick and the sum total of your generated washing up is a fork as you can just eat them out of the can.

There are, of course, other methods of making things go all hot, but these venture quite quickly into the realms of the difficult, time consuming or downright dangerous.

Serving the beans
Baked beans are almost infinitely adaptable and go with many, many other foods. The best idea would be to experiment. Here are a few options I have tried successfully, just to start you off:

As an accompaniment to a more complicated meal
Beans are a vegetable and count as one of your 'five-a-day', and go well with everything from burger and chips through sausage and chips to chicken kiev and chips. The sauce is great for dipping chips in, too. Unfortunately this idea involves preparing a whole 'nother meal to go with the beans and is therefore not great for those in a hurry or those who are simply just too lazy to cook.

With toast
Baked beans are most at home when served with a couple of slices of toast. Traditionally, the toast is prepared in the usual manner and served under the beans (this is where the popular name for the configuration comes from: 'beans on toast'), but the toast may be served wherever your personal preferences suggest: underneath, on top, to the side or on a different plate entirely. It's fine to butter the toast, but jam is seen by many as a step too far. For those following the 'don't cook it' route, you may like to try 'beans on bread' as a variation of this.

With another ingredient mixed in
As I've already stated, baked beans go with almost any other food, so you could try mixing in a favourite ingredient. Some of my favourite examples include:

  • a teaspoon of curry powder
  • grated cheese (or for the truly lazy or those devoid of grater, diced cheese)
  • a (small) tin of tuna
  • copious quantities of Worcestershire sauce
Any, some, all or more of the above ideas and ingredients can be mixed together for some really gourmet*** baked bean concoctions. The only things in your way are your imagination, fear and irritable bowel syndrome.

Baked beans top tips
  • Lick the plate afterwards. Chances are that your plate will sit on the side in the kitchen for some time, and baked bean juice is a bugger to get off after a week or so.
  • If there are posh people, your girlfriend's mother or friends with sensitive stomachs nearby when you have finished your meal, a slice of bread can be used to clean up the bean juice in place of your tongue. This is, however, less efficient and not great for the calorie-conscious.
  • A whole tin of beans can be a bit much for some people, but these people are weird. You can buy half-tins but these have little going for them: they are nowhere near enough bean for any normal hom-sap, they're less economical and they're just as girly as a half-pint glass.
  • Baked beans are actually not as bad for you as their ease of use and tastiness might imply. As already mentioned, they can count as one of your five-a-day, but this doesn't mean you can eat five cans a day and remain healthy. Or keep your friends.

* Not by @NoLoveSincerer herself; I'm talking about her blog No Love Sincerer. Not that she's not drool-worthy herself, of course. Oh God, I'm backing myself into a hole again, aren't I?
** As I understand it American baked beans differ from British ones in certain respects.
*** Or sometimes gruesome