In the belly of the beans

Baked Beans

While we Gourmandistanis have been privileged to encounter several different British people on the Internet, we have somehow never managed to discuss beans on toast. From our readings, advertising and a hefty dose of British satellite TV (we miss you, Come Dine With Me!), we’ve concluded there is some strange cultural connection to what appears to be creepily plain canned baked beans. On toast. Often, microwaved.

This affection for one of the ultimate expressions of boringly prepared bland brownness may explain why, in his River Cottage Meat Book, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall offers the option of discarding the bits of pork belly in his delightful recipe for Baked Beans. We strongly advise against it. We sacrificed our last piece of pork belly (though the next batch of pig pieces is due to arrive soon) to make this simple, slow-cooked dish, and we were not about to give it up as merely a “spice” or “lubricant.” Instead, we went in the opposite direction—lifting the softened belly chunks from the beany broth and frying them crisp before using to top hearty helpings. And we served our beans with some excellent rye bread, from a recipe we found on Susan Eats London’s site.

Britannia, we may not always understand you. But despite what we say, we often think you rule.

RECIPE NOTES:  We omitted the cloves and cut the pork belly a bit smaller than the recipe calls for (into 1″ cubes). Also, we used pinto beans rather than the white haricots, just because that’s what we had on hand. (Fearnley-Whittingstall said in a Guardian piece that you can basically use any sort of dried bean you want.) Finally, as mentioned above, we fished out the belly squares and crisped them up in a hot skillet before serving. The recipe that appears on the Guardian website adds half a tin of chopped tomatoes, which likely would make them a bit closer to the beloved Heinz Beanz.


  1. This is excellent! I am a Brit and so beans is nothing new to me, particularly from my student days. Usually only the really lazy leave it as just beans from the tin and microwave them though. Most of us cook them on the hob, add cheese and/or seasoning and spices. In my family we also crack an egg into the beans, let it cook until creamy in colour and you have “beans supreme!”. Add a side order of rocket leaves for extra taste and texture and you have yourself a simple, quick and easy but tasty dish. Or you could just have tinned beans with scrambled egg on toast seasoned with salt and pepper too. Perfect for those on a budget!

  2. I don’t know why I never encountered the idea of crisping the pork belly before adding it back as a succulent garnish–that’s a great idea. Thanks. I’m going to steal it. Ken

  3. I haven’t seen a bottle of Newcastle Brown in the last 10 years. I’d have been happy to go another 10! Your bean dish looks delicious. I’m not crazy about Heinz Baked Beans, but don’t mention this to Jenny as she’d think I ‘d gone mad and have me put down:)

    • OK, fine, Roger, I read it’s the working man’s beer. Shall I send you a 6-pack of the much worse American version, say PBR? Plus, the colors on the label matched my bowl. 🙂

  4. He suggests discarding the pork belly?!?!?!

    I am stupefied.

    Thank goodness you left it in! And who would really want to discard it anyway? I forget who it was that I was reading who extols the perfectly cooked beans in a can of Heinz. Was it Simon Hopkinson? Nigel Slater? I forget, but it made me run out, buy a can, and slap the contents on top of toast.

    I can’t say that I really enjoyed it, but I tend to find Heinz Beans way too sweet for my tastes. Maybe making my own like you did is the trick 🙂

  5. This sounds wonderful and I love the idea of crisping the pig belly before serving. Zia had a great recipe for baked beans but can no longer find it. I might have just “found” her a replacement. 🙂 Thanks for sharing,

  6. Can I tell you two a secret? …


    ……. I don’t really like the classic beans on toast. My parents enjoy it, always having a can of Heinz on the go, but then they’ve lived in Britain for 30 years now. (I can’t really see myself acquiring a taste for those microwaved beans within the next 7-and-a-bit years, either!)

    But the pork belly in this post is making a strong and very persuasive argument for trying your beans. I really can’t believe Fearnley-Whittingstall recommends you discard the meat; he is, to put it mildly, a nose-to-tail eater. If anyone told me to throw away pork belly I would cackle evilly for a good minute and then abruptly stop to fix the giver of this so-called ‘advice’ with the stoniest glare I could muster.

    Also I must thank you for linking me in your post! So honoured. 😀

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