Incredibly Delicious, Beans n Franks

Sure-fire, can't miss, bulls-eye every time

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By David Hammond

Beans n Franks. Charmingly humble. The mere "n" is disarmingly unaffected.

You can't even say "Beans AND Franks" without sounding pretentious: it's Beans n Franks. Simple, straightforward and about as basic as a food can get. I've no doubt this one-pot-two-ingredient meal has been enjoyed around campfires, by boy scouts and hoboes, for a long time.

Year or so ago, I did a series in Newcity entitled "Comfort Me." In these articles I had conversations with chefs about their favorite comfort foods, the foods they had, perhaps when they were very little. The comfort foods I was trying to identify were those these chefs continued to identify with homey warmth and security. Going into this project, I figured most people would go for high carb/high fat options, like Mac n Cheese. That was an incorrect assumption. Mary Nguyen Aregoni of Saigon Sisters told me her comfort food was pho, which she remembered eating with her dad after they fled Vietnam following the War of American Aggression. For Erick Williams of County Barbecue, it was beef stew.

As I interviewed these chefs, my big fear was that they'd turn the tables and ask me the same question I asked them: "What's your comfort food? 

That was my fear because, to that question, I'd had no answer.

But now I do.

My comfort food is Beans n Franks.

I know this because I've been making it a lot lately, and if I could (from a nutritional/health perspective), I'd eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I actually have to cut myself off, just say No. I can eat pounds of this stuff, just shoveling it in, enjoying every bite, not stopping when I'm full, but as Louis C.K. says, stopping only "when I hate myself" or when there's no more to eat, whichever comes first.

I actually don't remember my parents ever making Beans n Franks for me. I do remember making it for my three daughters a few times. I'd use Oscar Mayer hot dogs, Campbell's Pork n Beans, with maybe a few liberal squirts of French's mustard, done. Someone called this "Dad food," by which I assume they intended to mean, "idiot proof," which Beans n' Franks most certainly is.

When I'd present this low-effort dish to my children at the table, I'd melodiously intone "Incredibly delicious, Beans n Franks!" in kind of a declamatory, dramatic voice, half Wagner/half Marx Brothers. That musical introduction made it special, I thought, and they seemed to like it. At least, they ate it.

Now, the classic bean/sausage combo is not unique, of course, to 'Merica.

  • In France, cassoulet comes close, as it uses navy beans and sausage…but also confit duck and other fancy stuff that, in terms of classiness, put it a kilometer or two ahead of Beans n Franks.
  • In Mexico, frijoles charro are beans with bacon and, I'm told, sometimes hot dog slices, though I've never had it that way. I'm guessing, though, that the bean platform can accommodate whatever meat scraps you might have on hand.
  • In Brazil, they make feijoada with black beans, sausage and perhaps a few other meats; I really like the version they do at Oak Park's Taste of Brasil, and this dish is, in fact, somewhat close to Beans n Franks as we know and love it. Still, it's fancier, and Beans n Franks are, to me, the epitome (or nadir, in the best way) of un-fanciness.

All these other dishes, though they attest to the international ubiquity of beans and sausage, are not Beans n Franks, which I believe usually contain nothing more than spicy, tomato-based beans and frankfurters. You can use a high-level of beans – heck, you can go to town and prepare your own beans and piquant sauce – but it seems best to use navy-type beans and hot dogs, if you're making Beans n Franks and not some other dish.

Recently, I made some delicious Beans n Franks with Whiskey Hollow Brown Sugar Baked Beans and Park's Finest Jalapeno Cheddar hot dogs, a much higher level of ingredients than I'd traditionally used. This dish is the picture on this page. There was a lot more dimension to the beans than you could ever have in Campbell's, and the spicing in the wieners was much more subtle than you could hope to experience with Oscar Mayer, but I think sometimes when you're going for comfort food, you don't necessarily want anything more than that one-dimensional flavor you remember.

But really, whatever beans and whatever hot dogs you use, what you're going to make is something good. It's sure-fire, can't miss, bulls-eye every time.

Beans n Franks. My comfort food. Easy, fast, delicious…and idiot-proof.


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