The amount verbiage devoted to cooking beans is staggering. Somebody once said a 100 years never add salt or acidic to beans until they're cooked because it would toughen them. For 100 years thereafter, 100 alleged experts keep repeating that advice.
For an equally long time, budding cooks gave been advised not to add baking soda to beans because it softens them too much (true, if you use too much), and also that the soda destroys some elements in the B vitamin complex — this is true, but the amount is not anymore notable than the carnage that occurs normally in all cooking practices.
I like soft beans that have lost their individuality — when they don't, I smash them with a spoon against the side of my pot. I use very little soda — 1/4 tsp. per cup of beans. Finally, I wish to say the it's no myth that tomatoes and such will toughen beans — I throw in my tomato sauce at the very end. Salt, if it's added at the very end, will never overcome the absolutely awful taste of beans so mistreated. I toss in my 1 tsp of salt (to 1 cup of dry beans) as soon as the beans are beginning to heat up.
You'll feel indebted to me for life after you next pot of beans.
First, I've recently had my best results ever with dried beans using a slow cooker. On low, with salt & a bay leaf, unsoaked, w/ about 2 1/4x water (eg w/ 2 inches of beans in the cooker, water up to 5 inches.) Start checking them at about 8 hours. Perfectly tender yet still had some tooth, & almost no burst beans - burst beans have been the main problem I've had in the past. I've done this with black beans & garbanzos so far. It does take a long time but there is ZERO effort once you turn that thing on.
Second, I read in some CI thing recently that old dried beans are wrinkly when soaked. Presumably that only helps you in terms of the future (buy your beans somewhere else; know that old bean syndrome may be why this particular dish doesn't turn out perfectly...)
Third, I busted out the McGee to see what he says about stuff in cooking water: hard water can slow or prevent softening. Acidic liquids slow the softening process; alkaline liquids have the reverse effect. Salt slows the rate at which they absorb water, but they do eventually absorb it & soften. Presoaking in salted water (2 tsp/qt) greatly speeds cooking. Baking soda @ 1tsp/qt can reduce cooking time by nearly 75%. BUT the alkalinity of baking soda can give an unpleasant slippery mouth feel & soapy taste, & salted water [can] favor a mealy internal texture over a creamy one.
I made a bag of mixed beans the other day and I soaked them for about 12 hours before cooking them which I never did before, and they cooked up better and softer. I want to try it again with a single bean before I draw any conclusions though.
Tom, do I understand correctly. You've never soaked dried beans before?
That would explain your problem. There are two ways of prepping dry beans: long soak and fast soak.
The long soak usually works best. Wash the beans, pick over them, put in a pot, and cover with at least an inch of water. Let them soak overnight. Longer soaking is ok, but monitor them closely because after about 24 hours they'll start to ferment.
Drain the beans. Cover with fresh water. Bring to boil. Simmer until soft.
The so-called fast soak method works, but not nearly as well in my experience. For it, wash and pick over the beans. Cover with seveal inches of water. Bring to boil. Let boil at least ten minutes. Cover the pot. turn off heat. Let sit at least two hours.
Drain the beans, add new water, and cook as above.
To reduce the flatulence-causing nature of beans several things have been tried, with more or less success. Baking soda is one of them. Another is a pinch of epozote.
Why do they work? There are starches in beans that are neither water soluble nor soluble in the human body. What happens is that they ferment passing through the GI tract, producing gas as a by-product. Baking soda and epozote make those starches water-soluble, and they dissolve in the cooking water.
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Other things to consider:
1. The older the beans, the longer they take to cook. One reason most recipes have far-too-long cooking times is to account for this.
2. Mixed beans are usually not a good idea, because the various parts of the mix have different cooking times. Let's say your mix contains both kidney beans and lentils (as many do). By the time the kidney's are cooked the lentils will be mush.
3. Beans can be substituted, one for another, in most recipes. This will bring visual and taste changes, of course, sometimes suble, sometimes dramatic. But it's fun to fool around. Try, for instance, using Black Turtles instead of Kidney's in your next batch of refried beans.
That's a very good point, Luc, one that I should have made. The more beans you eat, the more beans you can eat without discomfort.
People don't realize how the body's intenstinal flora changes to accomodate what's being eaten regularly. I guarantee, for instance, that the way meats were treated in the 18th and 19th centuries would make most of us sick today. But it didn't bother those folks at all, because their GI tracts could handle it.
Reporting back after cooking yet another pot of beans (RG's Good Mother Stallard): I've given up on soaking; I just cook the beans a little longer. With relatively fresh dried beans and the 5-minute hard boil, it really doesn't add much more cooking time.
As for adding salt: since I find the process of cooking beans something on the order of reducing stock -- I start the pound of beans with as much as 5 quarts of water, and simmer them uncovered, so sometimes I end up with almost no liquid left -- I would rather add the salt at the end of cooking anyway, lest the end product be too salty. What has worked well for me is to cook the beans absolutely plain -- no salt, not even mirepoix -- and add the flavorings as soon as the beans are cooked to the degree of doneness I like, while they are still hot. They absorb the flavors very well as they cool (or as they sit until I serve them). Works for me.
This thread just shows that there is no "one right way" to cook anything. That makes me very happy.
If you live in a place like Texas or Arizona you will usually have fresh beans around, even at the grocery store, because they are very popular and more people know how to cook them. If you live in the north where they may not be so popular you should always go to the hispanic markets. Especially if you are buying black, or pinto, etc.
- I've never found beans to cause flatulence. Maybe because I've eaten them from time to time my whole life. And I cook them in the soaking water.
- After soaking overnight a few times, I'm sold on the superiority of that method. I'm amazed at how much the beans grow just from soaking. It seems like a waste to duplicate that initial hydration over heat when it can be achieved simply by soaking.
- I haven't been using salt in the soaking water and have been adding it towards the end of the cooking stage, but I think I will try adding salt to the soaking water. Intuitively, I think that way the salt will impregnate the whole bean rather than reside mostly in the cooking water and on the surface of the bean.
Q: Regarding the use of salt then, is the consensus that using salt in the soaking water works good, whereas if cooked from the dry state the salt should be added late?
- I haven't tried baking soda yet, but I will in the future. Just a little bit.
150' above sea level is not "high altitude!" High altitude is above, say four thousand feet. I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and we are at seven thousand feet above sea level. THAT is high altitude cooking. One hundred fifty feet won't make any difference to your cooking results.