Thursday, February 20, 2020

Always Bee Cooking #8: Finishing My First Molasses

This morning I finished off the first jar of molasses I ever bought, something like two years ago. I don't remember what compelled the purchase, but over that time (and despite its somewhat infrequent use) it became one of my favorite pantry staples. Not for its versatility, but for its targeted use.

I used it for basically three things, exclusively. Two of them I will include basic recipes for below. The third was oatmeal, which I have still yet to learn to love (or like). Before that, though: as I understand it, molasses is the byproduct of refining sugar. Blackstrap (what I was using) is the dregs of the most refined; lighter molasses are less refined and contain more sugar. The opposite goes for sugar; the darker brown, the more molasses is contained in the sugar itself.

This is useful information! For instance: it leads you to the conclusion of the first recipe below. And once you've made that, it makes it clear what utility certain kinds of sweeteners on the sugar-molasses spectrum provide to a specific recipe. Making cookies? Molasses is wet, so you could up the ratio of brown sugar to white if you want to make them more moist. The caramely, bitter byproduct is the best way to bring a level of sweetness without tipping the scales into saccharine.

The two recipes below hit the two major staples of my cooking: one is a preparation for other cooking, the other a staple that I have when I forget to eat for way too long. Neither are baking or (strictly) barbeque, which are probably what most people associate with molasses; I have no problem with either pursuit, but I haven't found myself working it into those (or, really, barbequing at all). Maybe on the second bottle.


Homemade Brown Sugar

This is hardly a recipe, but every time I've looked it up online I've seen people say wild shit about making brown sugar at home. Like, in a blender and shit. No one wants powdered brown sugar. That's absurd. Here's what I've done when I'm trying to bake and realizing I don't buy brown sugar or when I need to give a gift to some friends I'm crashing with for a week.

Place a small saucepan over low heat and add one part molasses. When it barely starts to bubble, add two parts white sugar. A rubber spatula works great to combine the two, but a spoon will do fine. Once they're incorporated you're going to keep needing to add sugar. The moment it breaks from just lightening up the liquid molasses to becoming distinct clumps you could theoretically stop, if you wanted really, really dark, clumpy brown sugar. The more sugar you add the lighter the color will be and the less clumpy.

Things to note: add sugar in stages. It will give you more accurate control over the results and won't lead to a giant mess. Don't be afraid to move the pot off the heat if things start to simmer too steadily or if the sugar starts to caramelize. You just want the heat to facilitate mixing, not cook. Also: enjoy the weird transformation, it's really fun. Plus you can make the brown sugar you want, which is chill.

Fake Baked Beans and Rice

Place a pan over medium heat. Open a can of pinto beans and decant some of the liquid. Pour the beans and the remaining liquid into the pan. Add enough molasses to come halfway up the beans, salt, pepper, a good amount of hot sauce. Stir to coat, then cover until the molasses bubbles vigorously. Drop heat to medium-low and let reduce, stirring occasionally to re-coat. Add dried thyme and sage a minute or so before serving and stir one last time.

For the rice: just before you pour the beans into the can, wash a couple cups of rice and then add your preferred amount of water (for my rice cooker that means a 1:1 ratio plus a little extra water). Add any flavoring you want - I find even a little bit of canola oil goes a long way, but butter or rosemary or black garlic oil are all excellent options. It should be done right around the same time. Serve beans over rice (and if you need something a little more nutritious throw some frozen veggies in the oven at 425 and top with those).

Things to note: I don't provide measurements here because I have no idea what the size or shape of your pan is. The goal is to get a good shellac of flavor on the dang beans. I trust that you can do it. The only real concern is to not torch the sugar, so using low heat and taking a little longer is always preferable. That's also why I recommend canned beans: you kind of can't fuck them up. I assume liquid smoke would be a great addition to this, but I've never actually seen or used that before I don't think.

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