Our Favorite Ways to Cook Beans
We're all over the map
Two years after the pandemic began, beans are still wildly popular — and they’re surprisingly versatile, as far as flavor and cooking methods. As you know, beans and rice are one of Mark’s favorite foods, one he’s called, “the most important dish on the planet.” For today, we’ve done an informal in-house poll (and beyond) on our favorite beans and how we cook them — and we’ve pulled a collection of bean recipes for members. We’d also love to hear about your favorite beans and how you cook them: Talk to us in the comments.
Honestly, I was not a huge fan of beans before I started interning at an organic bean farm, and now I'm a bean nerd — down to having a preference in variety (Hopi red limas are better than calico limas, in my opinion). I like to brine my beans overnight, then cook them in some kind of bone broth. I've been defaulting to a broth made from duck neck bones lately and that's been lovely. Much like Kerri, I believe the bean broth to be supreme, and starting with a bone broth gives a certain unctuousness that I crave. I also throw in a handful of garlic cloves, bay leaves and a few good glugs of olive oil then gently simmer for as long as it takes until they're done. Sometimes that takes an hour, sometimes it takes three, but it's always worth it. — Holly Haines
Two words: bean broth. Since I chain-cook pots of plain beans, I like to submerge them in at least four inches of water so there’s plenty of flavorful broth to sock away like stock. The only seasoning I use is a handful of bay leaves; believe it or not, each bean leaves behind a different flavor. Using a reverse-soak method—where you gently simmer the dried beans in a covered pot until just tender, then salt the water, turn off the heat, and let them sit an hour— the beans remain intact, with a lovely creaminess inside and just the right amount of starch released into the cooking liquid. I scoop the beans out with a slotted spoon and put the remaining bean broth in a separate container to either use with the beans or provide the base for soups or pasta sauces. — Kerri Conan
You know me: I do what’s most expedient. Kerri’s method is awesome, and that’s what I would do right now if I wanted beans this afternoon (it’s about 1 p.m.). But I certainly use the pressure cooker (yes, Instant Pot) more often than not – I put them in for 15 or 20 minutes, depending on size, age, with a piece of kombu (always) usually some garlic or onion or other aromatics, herbs or spices, then I release the pressure, add salt and maybe tomato, and go another 10 minutes or so.
Decidedly imprecise, but fast as hell.
I often just cook beans straight: Put them in water, start cooking, add whatever whenever, and cook as slowly as I can. I also soak, and if time is not an issue I soak for a few hours or overnight, in salted water (which, yes, slows things down, but I’ve said time is not the issue), and then drain and rinse and cook very very slowly, even in a low oven, gently but always submerged, until they’re done. That's my favorite technique I guess.
One other thing I like to do is add olive oil towards the end of cooking and cook until it emulsifies into the liquid – makes it a little creamier. A little fresh olive oil before eating never hurts either.
I do think kombu and onion or garlic (usually not both) are almost requisite. Everything else is kind of about how you feel that day, what the beans are telling you to do. But lots of seasoning is important. — Mark Bittman
Rick, my partner who owns a bakery — who’s bean method you can read below — occasionally does pop-ups called "Bean World," and if he could open a shop that only sold beans and breads, he would. Bean World, I’m convinced, would survive: He makes magic beans that are so great they're orchestral — which means I'm not the bean maker in my house: EXCEPT when it comes to black beans. I sauté some red onion, add a bit of roasted jalapeno, add cumin, and a touch of cayenne, then cook Rancho Gordo black beans, usually, in an Instant Pot. Serve with tomatillo salsa on the side and it's dinner. —Melissa McCart
I've cooked beans from scratch MAYBE four times. It's one of my "I don't know how to do that" foods. So this piece is for me. — Kate Bittman
Regardless of which dried beans you have, you want to pick through or at least visually scan them to make sure there is no gravel, dirt, or foreign material. Give them a rinse, then soak them overnight in fresh cold water or place them directly in a pot and get down to business.
The choice of pot is important. My favorite way to cook beans is in clay. Glazed or unglazed terra cotta makes a perfect cooking vessel. People have been cooking beans in clay since there were clay pots and beans. If you don’t have clay pots, use the heaviest lidded pot you have. Enameled cast iron is a good substitute.
If you soaked your beans the night before, drain them and give them a rinse. Put them in your chosen pot and cover them with fresh water. You don’t need as much as you might think: enough to cover the beans by an inch or so will suffice. Too much water and the flavor of the beans will be diluted and the cooking water will be less valuable later on.
You can add some aromatics at this point if you like: a clove or two of garlic or an onion, some celery, carrot, parsley, a bay leaf, maybe a few whole peppercorns, depending on what you’ll be doing with the beans. I most often cook beans simply without any aromatics, partly because I like the taste of beans, but also because it gives me more latitude in terms of where and how I use the cooked beans.
There is some argument about whether salting beans early in the process changes the way they cook. If the beans are top-notch, I don’t think it matters that much. That said, I don’t salt until the end of cooking.
Place a lid on the pot and put over a burner on low heat. If you are using clay, use a heat diffuser. If you are not using clay and have a heat diffuser, use it anyway. The idea is that you want to cook the beans evenly and slowly. As they come up to a simmer, skim off any foam or froth that appears and replace the lid. Cook. Slowly. Nice and easy.
Check the beans every now and again. If your beans swell a lot in the process of cooking, absorb a lot of water, and start to look a little dry, top off with some boiling water. When the beans are soft, salt to taste. — Rick Easton, baker, co-owner of Bread and Salt
Aaaaahhhhh ……Beans. I almost always have a pot of beans in broth going. Usually pinto or black. We share a lot of communal lunches here at our farm. Somebody usually brings rice or tacos, sometimes Rellenos. ( recently I made potato tacos that we ate with home canned “Salsa furiosa”) But always always there are beans. Right now it’s pinto. I always do them with one onion, sometimes a small handful of toasted cumin seed and I never salt until the end. Dreamy…..
I like your different takes on beans, but would you consider going back to your previous way of announcing reader discussions a few days in advance? Or if the site is moving away from these community conversations, that would be good to know. Thanks.