Dry beans are much, much more economical than canned beans. One pound of dry beans makes six cups cooked (roughly 3 drained cans worth) and that pound of dry beans will cost less than one can. Excess cooked beans freeze nicely and keep for several months. But there is a trick to getting tasty, tender beans that most people don’t know, and that trick is salt.
There is an old wives tale that says adding salt toughens beans therefore you shouldn’t salt until they’re cooked. This is entirely false. It’s actually been studied and disproven, but the myth persists, even perpetuated by such authorities as the National Dry Bean Council. What makes a dry bean cook hard is its age. The older a bean, the longer it takes to cook. If beans are really old, they won’t ever soften. So, use fresh beans.
I salt my beans before cooking with abandon. If I’m soaking the beans ahead of time, I brine them. If I’m using the quick soak method, I salt the boiling liquid in the same proportion.
- 1 lb. beans
- 1 Tbsp kosher salt per quart cold water
And that’s all. Pick over your dry beans, removing any that are shriveled or discolored and any foreign matter (small pebbles, etc.). Rinse them in cold running water. If you’re soaking, add your beans and salted water to a bowl and soak them 6-8 hours. If you’re using the quick soak method, add your beans and salted water to a large pot and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and soak for an hour. When beans are finished soaking, strain and rinse them and use in any recipe requiring beans. They still need about an hour of cooking time on the stove, or 6-8 hours in a slow cooker on low.
Charro beans are my one exception to this rule. Those I pick over, rinse, and then cook straight in the pot until they’re done, adding more (hot) water if necessary to keep the liquid levels up. They’re just better that way.
If I need cooked beans for a recipe, my normal modus operandi is to brine them overnight and cook them the next day in a slow cooker. But there’s one very important exception to this rule: kidney beans.
Kidney beans contain high levels of a toxin called phytohaemaggluttinin. This compound is found in lots of bean varieties, but is especially concentrated in red kidney beans. Even a few improperly prepared beans can make you quite ill. You should always soak dry kidney beans, discard the soak and rinse, and cook at a boil for ten minutes.
But I’ll be honest – I avoid the issue entirely by not using kidney beans very much. When I do use them, I buy them canned, as the canning process degrades the toxin.