Cooking Dried Beans

Dried beans can be cooked in a saucepan or pot on top of the stove, in a pressure cooker, in your oven, or in your microwave. The basic principles of cooking dried beans remain the same no matter which method you use.

Dried beans are cooked after being soaked and require water or other liquid to soften the beans as they cook (there must be enough liquid to keep the beans covered so they will cook uniformly, and any beans not covered during cooking will dry out and be inedible), plus oil or other fat and salt. The oil or other fat is used to lessen the possibility of the cooking water boiling over, and, along with the salt, add flavour to the beans. There is some controversy as to when is the best time to add the salt to the beans. Some cooks add the salt only after the beans have been softened in cooking, others prefer to add the salt to the cooking water with the beans. My experience is that adding salt at the beginning of cooking results in more flavourful beans and does not significantly influence the cooking time or tenderness of the beans. For average taste, 1 teaspoon of salt in the cooking water for each cup of beans is about right, however, you may want to hold off or cut down on the amount of salt used if salty meat is going to be added. Any acidic ingredients called for in your recipe, must be added at the specified time.

Most recipes will tell you to cook beans until tender. To check for tenderness, pinch or bite a few beans at a minimum suggested time, then every 10 to 15 minutes until the beans are tender. Overcooked beans fall apart, releasing bean starch which thickens the cooking liquid. This however, may be desirable for some recipes.

Ingredients

Method

  1. Rinse and sort the beans by spreading them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and pick out any stones and shriveled or discoloured. Dump the beans into a large bowl of water and swish around. Discard any beans that float to the top. Transfer to a sieve and rinse.
  2. Cover rinsed and sorted dried beans with 4 times the volume of cold water (about 4 cups water for each cup of beans). Cover and set aside for 6 to 8 hours or overnight, until the beans have doubled in size. When one is cut open, it should be moist all the way through. Drain the beans and discard the soaking water. Note that lima beans and pinto beans generally do not need soaking.

Stove-Top Cooking
Cooking beans on top of the stove is a slow process that allows the flavours of the beans and seasoning to intermingle, creating the hearty flavour you expect from bean dishes. The disadvantage of this method is that it requires you to be present, although not continuously involved, while the beans are cooking. The best cookware for beans is a heavy metal pot or saucepan. Stainless steel, cast aluminium, or cast iron are all excellent.

  1. Place the drained beans into a large pot or Dutch oven and cover with the fresh water or to about 2.5 cm above the beans.
  2. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons oil for every cup of beans (to prevent boiling over and reduce formation of foam) and seasonings as desired. (When dried beans boil, foam forms on the top of the cooking liquid. This foam is water-soluble protein released from the beans and it will be absorbed back into the bean cooking liquid. It is not necessary to remove the foam.)
  3. Boil gently with lid tilted until tender when tasted - 1½ to 2 hours.
  4. Add hot water as needed to keep beans just covered with liquid.
  5. The best rule is to test frequently during cooking, and then come to your own decision when beans are tender and taste "done".

Pressure Cooking
If you have a pressure cooker, take advantage of it to prepare beans in a matter of minutes. With a 15 PSI pressure cooker, soaked beans will cook in 3 to 8 minutes. If your cooker uses only 10 PSI, double the cooking time. (Before cooking beans in your pressure cooker, read the manufacturer's instructions.)

Oven Cooking
Baking in the hot dry air of the oven is a slow process, but it's the only way to create the glazed, crusty top characteristic of baked beans and bean pot casseroles. Generally, oven cooking is used in combination with cooking in a pressure cooker or in a saucepan on top of the stove. Be sure the beans are not overcooked before baking or they will be mushy.

Traditional containers for baking beans are earthenware bean pots, usually 3½ to 4lt size. The pot and lid should be glazed at least on the inside and must be lead-free. You can also use glass or ceramic casseroles. Metal baking pans are not recommended.

To bake beans, preheat the oven according to the recipe instructions. Then combine the drained cooked beans, seasonings, liquids and any other ingredients in the bean pot or casserole. Cover it and bake for 1 to 1½ hours. To brown the top of the beans, remove the lid and bake the beans 15 to 30 minutes longer.

Slow Cooking
Beans do not cook easily in a slow cooker. The Low setting is too low, lengthening the cooking time to 16 to 20 hours. And depending upon the age of the beans and the hardness of the water, the beans may not cook at all! If you cook beans on the High settling, a large amount of cooking liquid evaporates. You'll have to watch the slow cooker to be sure the beans stay covered with liquid.

If you want to experiment with your slow cooker, try cooking soaked beans for 2 or 3 hours on High, making sure they are constantly covered by liquid. When they are just tender, turn the heat setting to Low and let them cook 6 to 8 hours longer. During these last 6 to 8 hours, the beans won't need any special attention.

Slow Cookers can be used to reheat pre-cooked beans. They are also useful for keeping bean soups and stews warm while you finish preparing a meal or for serving at a buffet.

Microwave Cooking
Microwave ovens are not an ideal method for cooking dried legumes because of the long slow simmering that is required for complete rehydration and cooking. But if you're in a hurry, microwaved dried beans can be good for use in other recipes requiring beans. Place the drained, soaked beans in a container with 6-8 cups of fresh hot water, cover and cook at full power for 8-10 minutes or until boiling. Reduce power 50% and cook another 15-20 minutes or until beans are tender. The beans are now ready for use in any recipe using cooked beans, or for freezing.