Jersey Bean Crock

A bowl of Jersey bean crock with salad and bread & butter.

Bean crock (les pais au fou) can best be described as a sort of Norman cassoulet. It is a slow-cooked pork and bean stew, most authentically containing a pig’s trotter, water and onions. In the past the dish was so ubiquitous that English-speaking visitors, purporting to believe that the people of Jersey ate nothing else, dubbed the inhabitants Jersey beans (this epithet is sometimes considered derogatory, but a Jersey primary school French coursebook Salut Jersey featured two beans Haricot and Mangetout).

A little history. Back in 1066 the dukes of Normandy became Kings of England. At that time Jersey, an island just 14 miles from the northwest coast of France, was part of Normandy. A couple centuries later England lost control of mainland Normandy, but most of the islands in the English channel remained loyal to the English crown. The Bailiwick of Jersey is a self governing British Crown Dependency, not part of England proper.

Because of Jersey’s historical, geographical and cultural ties to France I see a lot of people using the word cassoulet in trying to explain this dish. There are some similarities, namely it’s a bean and pork dish cooked in the oven. History seems to show that dishes using pork and beans together were spread across Europe by the Romans, so it’s likely that the historical origins of all these dishes are the same, but I’m going to go ahead and say that if we can call the Jersey bean crock a cassoulet, then we should also be calling Boston baked beans cassoulet. In fact I think the bean crock has more similarity to it’s American cousin than the dish from southern France.

As the wikipedia quote says, this dish was historically pretty much ubiquitous in all households on the Island. Of course every cook has there own tweaks, but, as you might expect of a recipe from a small island, the core recipe is pretty basic; Beans, mostly small white haricot beans (navy beans or similar) often with a mixture of other beans added. (This is a great way to use up odds and ends when you have the tail ends of a bunch of bags of beans laying around). Meat, traditionally a pigs foot, or beef shank. Onion. Water. Maybe a carrot and some herbs. Most of the recipes I looked at called for removing the vegetables before serving, but feel free to dice them up smaller and leave them in if you want.

It pretty much all goes in the pot and into the oven, where you ignore it for several hours, except maybe to add a little boiling water if it seems to be drying out. Before every home had its own oven the prepared pots would be carried to the baker’s and left in his oven as it cooled overnight. In a modern self regulating oven we probably don’t need that long to get the beans soft. I baked mine for 6 hours, but I think that was probably about two hours too long. Most of the beans were completely falling apart and it wound up being kind of a bean purée. Still tasty, but not the texture I was expecting. The recipe I’m sharing is adjusted to reflect this.

Several of the recipes I saw said “if your bean mixture has red kidney beans, par-boil the soaked beans for 10 minutes before adding the remaining ingredients”. I did so, although I’m skeptical that in a long bake the difference in cooking times would be that noticeable. Actually I wonder if that precook contributed to the rest of my smaller beans cooking down to mush. Something to play around with if I make this again.

Jersey Bean Crock

Serves: 6
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: ~4 hours
Total: 4-5 hours, plus soaking time

12 oz mixed beans (large white beans, butter beans, kidney beans)
1 lb small white beans

2 ½ liters chicken stock

1 lb. pork belly
8 oz beef shin or meaty soup bone
1 pork trotter
1 ½ onions, peeled
1 ½ carrots
1 small bunch parsley
1 small bunch thyme
2-3 bay leaves
Pepper, to taste

Salt, to taste

Crusty bread and butter, for serving

12 oz butter beans, in place of mixed beans
3 stalks celery
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 Tablespoons beef drippings to brown meat and vegetables
75 g butter
Parsley, for garnish

Cover beans with cold water and leave to soak overnight.

Drain your beans and place in a bean crock or heavy oven proof pot or dutch oven. 

If your mixed beans contain red kidney beans, cover with water and boil for 10 minutes. Drain.

Put chicken stock in a pot and bring to a boil. Preheat oven to 400 F. 

Meanwhile, place pork belly, beef, pork trotter, onion, carrot, parsley, thyme and bay leaves on top of beans. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper. 

Pour boiling chicken stock over beans and place in oven, uncovered. When liquid is bubbling again, cover the pot and reduce oven to 300F. 

Bake for about 4 hours, checking periodically and adding additional boiling water if needed. 

One hour before serving remove meat, vegetables and herbs. Discard vegetables and herbs and allow meat to cool until you can handle it. Discard bones and gristle return meat to pot. Season to taste and serve with crusty bread. 

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