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Apr 7, 2009 10:56 AM

Need advice cooking dried beans

Please tell me what I'm doing wrong. I've tried to cook dried beans several time unsuccessfully. They are usually either cannelini or borlotti beans, I've tried both the soaking overnight method and the cooking for a long time method. What I end up with is broken skin yet they are still slightly chalky, i.e. not creamy. I'm ready to throw in the towel and always opt for canned, but I know in my heart that if I get it right, they are so much better. Please walk me through the exact process that will get me there. Thanks in advance.

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  1. do you do anything to the water....salt, drain, etc.? i usually just soak, rinse and cook with success..... i've read that some people salt the soaking water and then thoroughly rinse.........although i do love the canned cannelini especially as a hummus alternative.

    1. Direct from a popular PBS show... If I were you, I would pay attention to you local listings and keep a keen eye out for America's Test Kitchen's show on Tuscan Bean Soup.

      The Problem: Ideally, all the beans in a dish should have a tender, uniform texture, but too often the skins are tough and the insides mealy, or the beans are almost disintegrated.

      The Goal: We wanted to convert a classic Tuscan bean soup into a hearty rustic stew, with creamy, buttery beans and chunks of vegetables combining to create a deeply flavorful one-pot meal.

      The Solution: Since the beans are the centerpiece of this stew, we concentrated on cooking them perfectly. After testing a variety of soaking times, we settled on soaking the beans overnight, a method that consistently produced the most tender and evenly cooked beans. But none of the methods we tested properly softened the skins. The answer was to soak the beans in salted water. Brining the beans, rather than the conventional approach of soaking them in plain water and then cooking them in saltwater, allowed the salt to soften the skins but kept it from penetrating inside, where it could make the beans mealy. Tests showed that gently cooking the beans in a 250-degree oven produced perfectly cooked beans that stayed intact. The final trick was to add the tomatoes toward the end of cooking, since their acid interfered with the softening process. To complete our stew, we looked for other traditional Tuscan flavors, including pancetta, kale, lots of garlic, and a sprig of rosemary. And to make it even more substantial, we serve the stew on a slab of toasted country bread, drizzled with fruity extra-virgin olive oil.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Squirrels

        Their proportions for the brine are 3 tablespoons table salt to 1 gallon cold water. That's way more than the average home cook will need - halving the amount should be ample. ATK does a lot of brining but never mentions the time it takes for salt to dissolve in cold water. Rather than spending an hour stirring, I microwave a cup of water to boiling, dissolve the salt in that, then add ice and cold water to bring it up to the required volume.

        Also, really old beans are more likely to split their skins and remain tough.

        1. re: greygarious

          There's no harm in using that much water. It won't hurt anything. A gallon of water to a pound of beans isn't too much to ask. Besides, it's not like a gallon of tap water and 3 tbsp of salt are going to break the bank.

          1. re: Squirrels

            Negligible waste aside, although unless it is very hot weather it's not necessary to refrigerate soaking beans, I often do. My fridge is usually pretty congested so I prefer not to use a huge container when a smaller one will do.

      2. if the skins are broken but the insides still raw, it means you're cooking them in water that is too hot. just simmer them.

        do you have any idea how fresh they are? i know it seems like a weird question for a dried food, but unless the store has decent inventory turn-over, old beans just don't ever cook up quite right.

        this isn't a food that needs to be overthought. soak, don't soak, lots of water, just enough water, whatever. i add aromatics like an onion, some carrots, garlic and bay.

        1 Reply
        1. re: hotoynoodle

          Old cannelini is a familiar story to me - I thought dried beans were dried beans, period, until I got a five-pound bag as a Christmas present. I suspect they'd been in that bag for some time before I got them, and it was a year or so before I got around to cooking any of them. Oh boy... after three attempts at making edible beans, I soaked some for three days in three changes of water and then gave them almost 24 hours in a slow crock pot, finishing them in the oven. They were FINALLY cooked, though by then they had the carbon footprint of a 747. The remaining two pounds or so went into the landfill.

        2. I've used the same technique for years with good results.

          Pick through the beans and remove any small stones, dark, broken or withered beans.

          Rinse the beans to remove any dust or dirt.

          Put the beans in a large bowl, cover with plenty of water and allow to soak over night.

          Drain and rinse.

          Simmer beans in a large pot over medium-low heat, don't allow them to boil.

          Beans take time to cook, there's no way around it if you want the best texture an flavor from them.

          In general... it takes 3 - 4 cups of water to 1 cup of beans, From 1 ½ - 3 hours to cook, yield is around 2:1, that's 2 cups of cooked beans from every cup of dry beans.

          Amount of water, time to cook and yield vary from one to the next type of bean, more dry beans then you'll need and more water is a
          safe bet.

          Soy beans need to be refrigerated when soaked over night, they can start to ferment in as little as 4 hours at room temp.

          One last thing, do not season beans before cooking them. Salt or vinegar/acid will toughen the skins.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Demented

            Ahh - how long did it take before the old wives tales show up? A little less than 2.5 hours. As you may have read above America's Test Kitchen instructs to soak the beans in a salt water solution. Now, America's Test Kitchen may not be the absolute authority on all things cooking (nobody is) but I will follow their judgment along with Mario Batali's judgment when they tell me that salt DOES NOT toughen the beans.

            You are correct that vinegar/acids will, however.