One of the first cooking ‘techniques’ I was introduced to as a student was making cheese and beans on toast using a toastie-maker. At first, I was apprehensive. I couldn’t believe that the beans would get hot enough in the machine to cook through. However, as anyone who has used one of these machines will attest, I needn’t have worried. A toastie-maker heats the filling with all the subtlety of nuclear fusion. Bite too quickly into your toasted creation, and your hunger will dissolve, along with the lining of your mouth.
Whilst I no longer own a toastie-maker, I still make beans on toast fairly regularly. It is quick, easy, inexpensive and almost universally acceptable to children. Even the most sauce-rejecting child will typically make an exception for the satisfying sweetness of baked bean juice. That all said, it is easy to overuse it, especially when time and budget poor, and really tire of the taste.
The idea of this recipe is to retain the convenience and speed of beans on toast, yet produce a substantial meal with a slightly less familiar flavour. I won’t try to oversell it to you. If the thought of baked beans gives you ugly flashbacks to exam anxiety or house-sharing with spores, the addition of a bit of veg and BBQ sauce isn’t going to be transformative enough.
The deliciousness of combining pork and beans is well known, and bacon or salt pork is a traditional ingredient in recipes for Boston Baked Beans. Cans of beans to which “sausages” have already been added are available in practically every supermarket. However, unless these have real nostalgia value for you, it is hard to find the flaccid flesh-rods within palatable, let alone recognisable as sausage. In this recipe, frying up the lardons or bacon before adding the beans, allows the fat to render and become pleasantly crispy. Alternatively, you can leave out the bacon completely for an easy vegan meal.
A quick credit to the James of “James’s Beans on Toast” who kindly agreed to let me share this recipe. He says he was originally inspired by a trip to Bodean’s – a small chain of US-style restaurants in London so pork-obsessed even the door handles are in the shape of little pigs. That’s how the pork and BBQ sauce made their way into the recipe. Though the inspiration may come via the US, there is nothing quite so British as to still mix the whole thing up and bung it on some toast. Tuck in old bean!
James’s Beans on Toast
Time: Vegan/vegetarian version: 15-20 minutes Meat version: 20-25 minutes
1 tablespoon cooking oil (e.g. olive, vegetable)
1 clove of garlic minced or sliced (make it two if you like your garlic)
1 small onion, or half of a larger one
1 pepper (any colour) cut into chunks or strips
1 tin of baked beans (usually around 400g)
1 tablespoon of BBQ sauce
4 slices of bread
Butter or vegan spread
Black pepper (optional)
For meat-version only: Approx 125g of bacon lardons, or 3 rashers of bacon cut into strips
- Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok over a medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and fry until the onion is starting to soften. Add the peppers and cook for a further 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- For meat version only: Add the bacon to the pan and fry until the fat on the bacon is looking brown and crisp.
- Cook until the peppers have softened. Depending on your pan and the attentiveness of your stirring, they may have browned nicely in places too.
- Start to toast the bread, and add the baked beans to the pan. Heat until the beans and sauce are hot and bubbling (3-4 minutes). Stir in the BBQ sauce and heat for a further minute.
- Butter the toast and pour over the beans. Top any adult servings with a generous sprinkling of black pepper.