Corned Beef and Small White Beans

by Stacey Jaros


Alternate title: I should have known better.

Throughout the months of September and October my friend, Colleen, was living a very overscheduled life. Wondering when she might have a minute to herself she checked her calendar and realized November 2nd was free. She declared Saturday, November 2, Couch Date. Couch Date was a day to celebrate nothing on the schedule other than doing enjoyable things one puts off while getting things done. Once Couch Date was on her schedule, and the only thing on her schedule, she suggested her friends might also enjoy a day for themselves. Many of her friends joined her.

I shared my Couch Date with Jeff. We thought we'd spend some time clearing a few things off the DVR, including the movie "The Kings of Summer" which we missed when it was in theaters. I also thought it would be a good opportunity to tackle another recipe in The Red Box.

Jeff said, "You're going to cook on Couch Date?" I said, "Well, we'll be home all day and we'll have to eat. Besides, I like to cook. Couch Date isn't about doing NOTHING, it's about not filling up a schedule with 'MUST DOs.'"

 For some reason I keep laving out one item from my ingredient photos. This time it was ketchup.

For some reason I keep laving out one item from my ingredient photos. This time it was ketchup.

I looked for something that wouldn't take a lot of prep or cleanup and settled on Corned Beef with White Beans. I thought it would be something I could throw in a pan and let it go.

Initially thought about putting it in the slow cooker. I think I remember my Mom making corned beef that way. It is entirely possible Noni made it in the slow cooker too. There was often a pot of beans or greens cooking that way on the counter at Noni and Pop's house. Since the recipe didn't call for any liquid I thought it might dilute the flavor of the other ingredients. I decided on a roasting pan instead.

If you've made corned beef, or beans, you're likely shaking your head. I hadn't made corned beef in decades. I've learned my lesson. Please go easy on me. Sure I could blame the recipe but I should've known better.

When I asked for corned beef at the meat counter the meat was encased in plastic just how I remembered. Since I didn't need 5 pounds the butcher cut the corned beef for me. There were typical spices on the corned beef but it didn't some with a separate spice packet as is common for corned beef. I do not know if waiting two days to cook it contributed to it being dry due to the fact it was no longer sealed in plastic but merely wrapped in butcher wrap.

Rather than the typical Corned Beef and Cabbage, this recipe includes ingredients similar to BBQ sauce. I found that more appealing than Corned Beef and Cabbage which is really not a favorite of mine.

 Salad spinners: they're for so much more than salad.

Salad spinners: they're for so much more than salad.

I turned the oven to 325° and set the timer for one hour.

 The ingredients are very straightforward, other than butter. Hunks of butter seem a little odd to me. 

The ingredients are very straightforward, other than butter. Hunks of butter seem a little odd to me. 

 Here is the pan stirred after one hour. 

Here is the pan stirred after one hour. 

The deepened color on the onions and ketchup were a good sign that things were heading in the right direction. The beans made a lot of noise in the pot as I stirred. I realized they were very dry. It isn't clear in the photo but there were a few inches of liquid in the bottom of the pan. That gave me hope but I was seriously concerned I should have used the slow cooker and added liquid.  Even though it was smelling good I started to worry dinner wasn't going to be delicious. I should've added water, or broth, or water plus additional quantities of the original ingredients so the flavor wouldn't be diluted. Basically, I should have added any liquid instead of doing what I did which was to put it back in the oven for another hour.

 After hour two of cooking. 

After hour two of cooking. 

After another hour there was a lot of color on the beans. They weren't any softer. There wasn't a lot of liquid in the bottom of the pan. I scooped out a few beans to taste and set them aside to cool. I caved and added a splash (well, about a cup) of water. I also turned the oven down to about 250°. At that point I was just trying to have something edible. I put the pan back in the oven.

I tasted the beans. On the one hand they had a good flavor. On the other hand they were VERY chewy. The texture was really unpleasant. I casually searched the internet for corned beef recipes. Well, I probably don't need to tell you they all call for adding liquid. Every recipe I found requires liquid.

Of course I didn't search "how to cook beans" because I know beans, dried beans, require a lot of liquid to cook. Of course I know that. I'm not an idiot. Why, why, why I didn't stick with my initial instinct of the slow cooker I just can't say.

Had I used the slow cooker, with the necessary liquid, the cooking time would have been close to 6 hours. That's when I started my project. The meat had cooked in half the time. I turned the oven as low as it would go and made mashed potatoes.

 I'm pretty sure a meal of beans doesn't need mashed potatoes but mashed potatoes, especially in Jeff's world, make most things better.

I'm pretty sure a meal of beans doesn't need mashed potatoes but mashed potatoes, especially in Jeff's world, make most things better.

The next night I tried to reconstitute the meal by simmering the beans in beef broth for about an hour then adding the meat to warm through. It really didn't work. The beans were a bit better -  closer to al dente rather than downright chewy, but the meat was still way too dry.

I was thankful the butcher sold me a smaller portion and that I didn't waste the whole portion. At least the mashed potatoes were delicious (& I made lots to freeze some for a future meal).

Corned Beef and Small White Beans

2 bay leaves
5 peppercorns
2 parsley sprigs
1 onion, sliced
2 Tablespoons margarine
1/3 Cup brown sugar
1/3 Cup ketchup
3 Tablespoons vinegar
Small pack white beans
1 corned beef [I've since learned a corned beef is a brisket seasoned with particular spices. It is very likely a brisket is the preferred cut of meat for this recipe.]

Cook a long time. [The ingredients should be covered with water before cooking.]