Alright, so I’ve been doing my research on how to cook beans. There are actually a lot of different methods. So many, in fact, that there’s bound to be one that suits just about everyone’s style and needs.
The basic “how to” process of cooking dry beans is pretty much the same regardless of which method you use: soak beans, cook in a liquid (usually with about a 1:3 ratio of beans to liquid) until tender, add seasonings while cooking (basic rule: 1 tsp of salt per 1 cup of beans), drain and eat. So regardless of how you choose to cook your beans, you can take comfort in knowing there’s not much you can do to mess them up if you stick with the basic plan. 🙂 So let’s take a look at some different methods, starting with soaking.
There are three different ways to soak your beans. (Seriously?!) There’s a Long/Traditional Soak, a Quick Soak, and a Hot Soak. The purpose of soaking beans is to start the rehydration process and reduce the cooking time. Beans will double in size as they soak, so make sure you put in enough water to keep the beans covered. When beans are done soaking, be sure to discard the soak water and use fresh water to cook. This will help reduce the “gassy effect” beans can have. 🙂
The Long/Traditional Soak Method is done by simply placing your dry beans in a bowl or jar, covering them with plenty of room temperature water, and allowing the beans to soak for about 8 to 10 hours, or overnight. (You should not let your beans soak for longer than 12 hours as they can lose their texture and flavor.)
The Quick Soak Method is very convenient for most cooks because it rehydrates beans in a little more than an hour. Simply place your beans and soaking water in a pot, bring them to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cover with a lid. Allow the beans to sit in the soak water for about 1 hour. Drain the beans to get rid of the soak water and then cook your beans according to your preferred method (see below).
The Hot Soak Method is apparently the “new and improved” method of soaking. It is a cross between the convenience of a quick soak and the benefits of a long soak. It is designed to help break down the sugars in the beans so that they are more easily digestible (reducing the gassy effect even further). For the hot soak method, add 5 cups of water for every 1 cup of beans to a pot. Bring to a boil and boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and cover (same as the quick soak method) and allow the beans to sit in the soak water for 1-4 hours (4 hours having the better benefits). Then discard the water, rinse your beans and the pan, and return the beans to the pan with fresh cold water to cook as usual.
Let’s move on to how to actually cook our beans. There are a lot of different methods to choose from, but I’ll cover the three most basic or common: stove-top, crock pot, and pressure cooker.
Traditional/Stove-Top Method: The benefit of cooking on a stove top is that it cooks slow enough to allow the flavor of the beans and seasonings to meld and create a wonderful tasting dish. The down side is that you need to stick around during the cooking process, so it can take a chunk of time out of your day.
To cook beans on the stove-top, add your soaked beans to the pot along with the appropriate amount of water or broth (again, generally a 1:3 ratio of beans to liquid… just make sure the beans are covered with liquid by about 1-2 inches), you can also add a little oil or fat (1-2 tsp) to help reduce boilovers and add to the flavor, and add whatever seasonings you are using as well (although if you are constantly running into issues with tough beans, wait to add your salt until halfway through the cooking process). Bring your beans to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Allow the beans to cook until tender. This will take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours depending upon the bean variety, but the average time for most beans is 1 to 1½ hours. Check the beans occasionally while cooking to make sure they are still covered with water (no beans should be peeking out of the water). If the water is running low, add more HOT water as it continues to cook. When the beans are done (you can test by either trying to mash one, or eat one), drain off the extra liquid and serve! (Or use in a dish and follow recipe directions for any further preparation needed.)
Crock Pot/Slow Cooker Method: The advantage to using a crock pot for cooking is that it is essentially a ‘fix it and forget it’ way to cook. However, you DO still have to keep an eye on these bean babies to make sure they are kept in enough water and that they are also receiving enough heat to actually cook the beans.
What appears to be one of the most recommended methods for cooking in your crock pot is to cook your soaked beans (with the appropriate amount of liquid and seasonings) on high for about 2-3 hours (you’ll need to monitor the water level in the pot and add extra HOT water as needed) and then reduce the heat to low and cook for an additional 6-8 hours (at which point they won’t need any special monitoring).
(Side note: When I cooked mine in the crock pot, I cooked them on low for the entire time and it took about 10-12 hours for them to be fully tender. I turned them on first thing in the morning and they were ready by the time I was putting kids to bed. So we ended up eating them the next day… which isn’t a bad thing because beans are said to enhance flavor as they sit anyway.)
Once the beans are done cooking, drain (reserve liquid if needed for further preparations) and serve.
*Important Note: You should NOT cook kidney beans in a crock pot because the heat does not reach a high enough boiling point to cook the funky toxin out of the kidney beans and you could end up with a serious stomach ache (or worse!).
Pressure Cooker Method: Now this is a method that I would LOVE to explore. Cooking anything in a pressure cooker speeds the process greatly, but when you’re talking about cooking beans in just 5-8 minutes, that seems insanely fast! I’m going to have to start looking for an inexpensive pressure cooker to try this out! (I have a pressure cooker/canner, but it is WAY too big to get out each time I want to cook some beans. Not to mention I’d probably have to cook about 10 pounds at a time in that bad boy to even fill the bottom! :)) So anyway…
To cook beans in a pressure cooker, combine the soaked beans, appropriate amount of water/liquid, and your seasonings (and oil if desired) in your cooker. (Do not fill it more than half full!) Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the following process: seal the cooker and bring it up to the required pressure. Then reduce the heat and start timing. Maintain enough heat to keep the proper pressure (the regulator should be gently rocking, about 1-3 times per minute). Cook for the shortest amount of time indicated on the bean cooking time chart (see image). Remove from heat and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for quickly reducing pressure. Once there is no pressure, open the cooker and test your beans. If they are not quite done, continue to cook on the stove, but without pressure. (Bring the beans to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer. Place the lid on the cooker but do not seal it and do not use the pressure weight or regulator. Simmer for about 15-30 minutes until the beans are as tender as you would like. And next time you cook in the pressure cooker, just know to add another minute or two to the cooking time so that they will cook to the correct tenderness. :))
Cooking At High Altitudes: When cooking at high altitudes (generally anything above 3,500 ft), your cooking times for beans will increase significantly and can even double (this goes for the pressure cooker method as well). Experiment with the times a little to see what works for you and your altitude and then make note for future reference.
For more great information on beans, visit Central Bean. It has an incredible amount of information, so check it out for more helpful hints!