Bean Basics

Bean Basics

How to Cook Any Bean

Dried beans come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, but when it comes to cooking and serving they are essentially interchangeabl —especially with this impossible-tomess- up method. Figure 1 cup of dried beans will yield 2½ to 3 cups cooked, or 3 to 4 servings; a pound of dried beans will yield 5 to 6 cups cooked, or 6 to 8 servings. All beans keep for months in the pantry.

RINSE THE BEANS All beans should be cleaned before cooking. As you run them under water, rake through them with your hands and take out any withered, broken, or discolored beans or any pebbles. (If you’re soaking the beans before cooking, rinse and pick over them beforehand.)

COOK SLOWLY IN PLENTY OF WATER Put the beans in a large pot with enough water to cover them by 3 to 4 inches. (Beans swell to twice their original size.) Start them out on high, then adjust the heat so they barely bubble, and cover. Vigorous boiling or inadequate water will make them bump into each other, which will rip their skins and cause them to fall apart. The bigger the bean, the longer the cooking time—lentils and split peas can cook in as little as 20 minutes, while chickpeas may need 2 hours or even more. The time can vary wildly depending on how old and dried out the beans are.
3 or 4 inches is about the length of an average index finger.

CHECK THEM OCCASIONALLY Cook the beans until there’s no trace of crunch and they’re as tender as you want them, from just barely soft to creamy and falling apart. The only way to know for sure is to taste. If they’re small (like lentils), start tasting the beans after 20 minutes or so and try again every 10 to 15 minutes. If they’re larger (like kidney beans), start tasting after 30 minutes. As they cook, keep the beans covered by at least 2 inches of water, adding more if necessary and adjusting the heat to keep the water barely bubbling. When the beans begin to turn tender, add a big pinch of salt and as much pepper as you like.

DRAIN THE BEANS Drain them in a sieve or colander over a bowl or fish them out of the pot with a slotted spoon. The idea is to reserve the cooking liquid—it’s flavorful and comes in handy when you’re reheating beans (you can also use it in place of stock in many recipes). Use the beans right away or transfer them to a sealed container, cover them with bean-cooking liquid, and refrigerate for up to 5 days (or freeze for up to 6 months).

To Soak or Not to Soak?

Soaking beans before cooking is useful if you prefer super-soft beans, or if you want to cut cooking time slightly. (I rarely bother, however.)

Lentils and split peas never need soaking. With other beans you have two choices: For a shorter soak, put them in a large pot, cover with 3 to 4 inches of water, and boil for 2 minutes, then cover and turn off the heat. Let them sit for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

For a longer soak, cover the beans with 5 to 7 inches of water. Let sit for 6 to 12 hours —no longer or they’ll turn mushy and bland—then drain. After either method, they’re ready to use in any recipe, but they’ll cook faster, so start checking after 15 minutes.

Canned Beans

Canned beans are more expensive, mushier, and less flavorful than dried beans you cook yourself. But when you need to make a quick weeknight dinner and don’t have any home-cooked beans handy, they’re undeniably convenient.

To use canned beans in any recipe: Figure on using 2½ cups (that’s one standard can) of beans for every ½ pound of dried beans called for in the recipe. (In recipes that call for cooked beans, substitute canned in the same measure.) Dump them in a colander or strainer to drain off their liquid and rinse them well under cold running water. In recipes that start with dried beans, wait to add canned beans until the last 5 minutes or so of cooking.

11 Additions to the Pot

To give beans extra flavor, add any of the following with the water. When the beans are done, fish out whatever is inedible.
1 1 to 2 small dried red chiles
2 1 whole lemon, lime, or orange
3 1 sprig fresh thyme or rosemary
4 Several sprigs fresh parsley, cilantro, basil, or mint
5 A leftover rind from a chunk of Parmesan cheese
6 4 bay leaves
7 3 to 4 garlic cloves
8 1 meaty pork bone
9 ½ pound chopped raw or smoked sausage
10 Several slices of smoked bacon
11 ½ pound raw pork shoulder (fattier is better; no need to trim)

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