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Brining beans? Yes!

ATK recently suggested that when you soak your dried beans, add salt. This goes against most wisdom re: beans, but it worked!! 1 lb. dried beans, 3 tbsp. table salt (or 6 tbsp. kosher) 4 qts water. soak 8 or up to 24 hrs, drain and rinse beans to get all salt off. Then cook as usual depending on type of bean till tender in unsalted water. They came out perfectly for baked beans (even tho their recipe was for tuscan bean soup...). Very tender and creamy and few "exploded" beans. Sometimes, the Bow-Tie team is spot on. Salt Rules!! adam

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  1. Just did this method for white beans today. Perfect! The cook time was about 40 minutes and the beans were absolutely creamy and remained whole. They did have a slightly salty flavor so I reduced the amount in the dish I made.

    8 Replies
    1. re: alwayscooking

      How long did you soak them? I tend to put the soaking beans in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours and am reluctant to leave them in that concentrated a salt solution for that long, especially since I use a very light hand when it comes to salt. My instinct would be to use a solution that tastes like sea-water but that might not be strong enough.

      1. re: greygarious

        gg: why do you put your beans in the fridge to soak? I've never run across that method. If you think about it, 3 tbsp salt to 4 quarts of water is NOT that concentrated of a solution. I soaked mine for 12-16 hours, and they were perfect- creamy, tender and not starchy or grainy. If your solution tastes like sea-water, it might be too strong for the bean-brine; that's better for pasta cooking water or meat brining. adam

        1. re: adamshoe

          adam, I stick the bowl in the fridge in case I don't get around to cooking the beans when I'd intended. I don't know how long they'd have to sit at room temp before fermentation or other spoilage gets started, so the fridge is playing it safe (stupid, really, since I routinely use raw eggs in carbonara, let cooked food cool to room temp before chilling, don't hesitate to cut away moldy areas of bread or cheese and eat the rest, etc., and never have trouble).

          1. re: greygarious

            grey - many many times I've not gotten around to cooking them when I thought I was - just drain the beans and chill or freeze them - works great

            1. re: greygarious

              I don't think fermented (within reason) beans will hurt you, but how do you get past the smell to be able to cook and eat them? It's a really disgusting smell.

              1. re: MikeG

                As I said in my post, I refrigerate the soaking beans so they DON'T ferment, so I have never experienced that smell.

          2. re: greygarious

            I put about 2c in a dish, threw a bunch of salt in (Mediterranean sea strength), and let it sit for 36 hours - it was supposed to be for dinner but ended up for lunch the next day. There were some bubbles on the top but all smelled fine and in the pot they went. They were amazingly fast cooking and the final product was not salty.

            1. re: greygarious

              If you don't have seawater handy to make this comparison, the average salinity of the ocean is 35ppt (or 35g of salt for every liter of water).

          3. So glad you tried it Adam! I have wanted to since I saw that show, but haven't yet. I am the only bean eater in the house, so I don'/t make them frequently. I think the real key is to really rinse them well. Good job!


            1. I wonder if brining would work when using the quick hydrating method -- bring water to a boil, put the dry beans in, when it returns to a boil, continue to boil for 2 minutes, turn the heat off, cover the pot and let sit for an hour (these directions usually on the bag of beans). That's the way I hydrate beans--saves messing with them overnight. I'll have to try putting salt in the the hydrating water. Hmmmmm.

              1. I've been using a teaspoon of baking soda thrown into the pot just before cooking. Very creamy beans!

                1 Reply
                1. re: dbarnard

                  Baking soda destroys the B vitamins in beans.

                2. I like this idea will try next time. Dry beans are so much more economical than canned beans. The price has jumped even on the dry ones. Can you tell me how to can my own beans? I have planted a garden and will have plenty of beans. Most will be dried but would like to know if canning them is an option.

                  1. Hello, what are we going to brine next? Chocolate Pudding? Bringing beans is totally unnecessary. I have been cooking beans since before Christopher K. turned on the stove. There is only one secret to cooking beans. You must find young beans. Old beans will never cook up to creamy.beans You have to find a brand that is dependable, My go tos are Camilla and Goya. I do soak. At this very moment I am soaking a pound of Camilla red beans which will cook up SO good tomorrow you might want to slap your Mama: all without this silly brining.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: NOLA_Pam

                      So, when I go to my local mexican market that sells dried beans in bulk, how do I know if they're fresh. Wait a minute, what the heck is a "fresh" dried legume anyway? It's disappointing to see someone offer such a negative viewpoint on something so simple.

                      1. re: NOLA_Pam

                        I remember seeing this episode and the brining wasn't to make cooking quicker, but rather to help keep the bean skins intact, for fewer exploded beans.

                        1. re: DMW

                          It makes a difference in the flavor, too. I use very little salt in general, but I've brined beans ever since the CI method came out. Since cooking beans in salted water is a no-no, if you don't brine you have to salt the finished beans, and their essential blandness is still detectable. Brining gives the beans more inherent flavor.

                          Meilaushi, did you ever try a quick-soak brine? I imagine the way to proceed wold be to add the salt after the boiling part, when the bullbling stops but the water is still hot.
                          I never thought to try that.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            According to Cook's Illustrated, there is no harm in salting the water beans cook in.

                            1. re: Humbucker

                              For years I labored under the misconception that beans should not be cooked in salted water. About ten years ago, I "accidently" salted the bean cooking liquid at the onset of cooking and found that, in addition to getting a more flavorful end result, there was no perceivable difference in the quality of the beans cooked in salted or unsalted liquid.
                              My only rule is that beans should have a long simmer, rather than a boil; makes for a creamier bean.
                              Edit: Sorry, Humbucker, I meant to respond to greygarious.

                              1. re: bushwickgirl

                                I need to clarify my post: I do soak with salt, then rinse and cook without added salt. The salt added in the soaking liquid is absorbed by the beans, and flavors the cooking liquid to a certain extent, and there is no need to add salt for that step.

                                As noted in my post, if you don't or forget to add salt in the soaking process, adding it to the cooking beans will, in my opinion and experience, not make a wit of difference in texture nor increase or decrease cooking time, depending on the moisture content in and freshness of in the beans; this results in better bean flavor all around. I also frequently add onion, cut in half with skin on, whole garlic cloves, bay leaves, whole chili pods, etc. as well as modifying the cooking liquid, such as using diluted pork, chicken or turkey stock or cheap beer. Feel free to experiment.

                                Simmer gently, do not boil, cardinal rule. Taste for texture, and enjoy.

                              2. re: Humbucker

                                I have been cooking pinto beans for 50+ years. I learned from my mom. If you don't cook the beans with salt, you can't get the salt flavor after they are cooked. The beans are bland period. If my mom would forget once in a while, she would put some salt in water and boil until the salt disolved and then add it. It made a little difference but not as good as salting from the beginning. My rule, I always buy the beans from a bin and not off the shelf. You don't know how long the packaged beans have been sitting therefore, they can grow old. The beans in the bin usually sold in latin neighborhoods, are sold more quickly and haven't aged. They always turn out tender and with good flavor thanks to the addition of salt. One point to make, once they start to boil, you have to remove the foam that rises to the top. Once that is done, then add your salt, turn down to a good simmer and cover the pot. This is an important step. I have never cooked the white beans so I'm not really sure if this info applies across the board.

                              3. re: greygarious

                                I've brined beans according to the CI/ATK method both by the overnight and the quick (2 minute boil, 1 hour sit in the hot water) method, and it seems to work fairly well both ways. Noal_pam's idea of fresher dried beans may be helpful too, but as billybobt indicated, how does one know which dried beans are 'fresh' (unless, of course one bought 'em a year ago, and left 'em in the bottom of the cupboard and only discovered them recently. ;^) ).

                            2. re: NOLA_Pam

                              Fresh just means finding a brand with a quick turnover,so you don't get old beans. Hence my fondness for Camellia and Goya. You really can not tell by looking. Buy yhe brands with a lot of turnover.

                            3. I tied CI's red beans & rice recipe which includes the brining step and I have to say they were fantastic. Exceptionally creamy and the skins were so tender. The beans stayed in the brine for nearly 18 hours with no adverse (re: gassy) effects. Harold McGee agrees with CI, too: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co...

                              1. Interesting!

                                I love beans and I cook them a lot. I have learned that not adding salt to the cooking water is criminal and I've begun adding spices to the water I soak them in too. Since they're soaking up so much water it might as well have flavor! But I've never salted the soaking water. Even so, they seem to draw in enough during the final slow, slow, slow simmer.

                                Must try this and see if it makes a difference.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: rainey

                                  What spices do you use in the brining water? I often do a beans/barley/rice lunch cooking the brined beans and barley with a bit of added rice, a hot dog or ham, and some bouillon, dried veggies and celery, but adding some nice spice(s) while brining that would go with all that would nicely, seems to me, 'kick it up a notch' (sorry CI/CTK, hadda get Emeril in there--added 'spice,' y'know to go along with the query).

                                  1. re: meilaushi

                                    Whatever beans I'm cooking I add ginger (supposed to cut back on the gasiness; don't know if ti does but I always use it), granulated garlic and granulated onion. Then if I'm doing garbanzos I add a generous amount of cumin powder. If it's cannelini or borlottis I add something Italian -- oregano or basil or an Italian blend. If I'm going for a Mexican flavor I add epizote, dried cilantro and ancho powder.

                                    Really anything you want to taste or whatever way you want to go is a possibility. It's just a matter of whether or not you want to see the "green bits" in your finished beans. You could, of course, rinse it away before cooking but I add a fresh load of the same thing plus salt to the cooking water.

                                    Once cooked, it's not a smack-you-in-the-face sort of flavor but there are definite notes that add something.

                                    1. re: rainey

                                      Thanks, Rainey! I'll have to give those spices a try. I don't mind green bits at all. I usually while cooking the beans add our local supermarket's dried veggies, and these add green, orange, red, purple and who-knows-what-all colors--I haven't quite figured out besides parsley, carrot and tomato bits what other veggies/herbs they include. But the spices you use sound neat, and subtle but delicious flavoring is the sort of thing that separates 'gourmet' from plain IMHO.

                                      1. re: meilaushi

                                        I've been told when presoaking beans overnight, you can "de-gas" the beans by adding a teaspoon of fennel seed to the soak water. This is said to break down some of the complex carbs that cause gassiness.

                                        I'm wondering, does adding caraway seed to sauerkraut do the same thing?

                                        1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                          "'I'm wondering, does adding caraway seed to sauerkraut do the same thing?"

                                          Nah, just for flavoring, nothing more. Interesting question, though.

                                          Just the soaking process itself promotes de-gassing pretty well, fennel seed or no. Chewing fennel seed after a meal does aid in digestion and relieves gas, so I guess a teaspoon in your beans can't hurt. Works well a a breath freshener also.

                                2. Well, I'm really not in this discussion. I am from the land of creamy beans{New Orleans} We don't brine and some of us don't even soak. We just cook those babes for 3 or 4 hours, smash some upside the pan when they are done to get the creamy thing. That,s the land of creamy beans. All this other stuff is unnecessary. Just cook those babies. I do it once a week. Enough said.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: NOLA_Pam

                                    Well, I am not really in this discussion either, because I didn't know that EVERYONE didn't soak beans in salt water first! I thought ..........that is "just the way you do it"... I never considered it "brining" :)
                                    I also typically use salt when I cook the beans too (depending on the recipes of course). Unsalted beans are tasteless to me.

                                  2. Very late to this thread... I've cooked beans for years too and was of the thought that salt was added toward the end. I'm very much into understanding the science of these techniques, and I am soaking beans in salty water right now for the first time.

                                    Quick question, after rinsing the beans and readying for use as normal, do you then treat the beans as before? As in, do you salt at the normal qualities? In reading some of the CI explanations, they claim that the salt only affects the skin, but I'm dubious since the beans are essentially re-hydrating a bit, and the only thing to re-hydrate them is salty water.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: nasv

                                      I brine my beans either by the 2 min boil & 1 hour sit, or overnight (often with the 2 minute boil anyway) -- usually about 3 tsp. kosher salt to 3-4c of water & 1/2 c. navy beans. That water gets poured off and the beans are then cooked in plain water for maybe 35 minutes at a simmer after they come to a boil. I pour that water off and add new water + whatever other ingredients go in the dish for a final 35 minute simmer (after coming to a boil)--or if baking, for the usual baking in the final ingredients for the dish. Seldom have gas this way.