Dried Beans: A Tutorial
- a slow cooker
- a saucepan to boil water
- 1 lb dried beans, (in this case, cannellini), or about 2 cups dried beans
- 2 bay leaves
- 2-3 frozen onion tops or 1 cooking onion, peeled and cut in half from root to end
- 2 quarts boiling water
- salt to taste
Pour your dried beans into a colander and pick through to find misshapen, discolored or otherwise nasty looking beans or small stones. Because dried beans are about the size and color of some pebbles, it’s not completely bizarro to find little rocks, clumps of dirt or other natural bits and pieces occasionally tucked into the bags. After you’ve picked through and removed any undesirables, give the beans a good hearty rinse under cold water, rubbing them around in the colander as they’re being cleaned. This ensures that you remove any dirt your eagle eyes may have missed. This also gives you a chance to look the beans over one more time.
Add the beans to the crock of the slow cooker. Place the bay leaves and onion tops (or onion) on the beans and pour in the boiling water. (It really does need to be boiling. That is key!) Quickly put the lid on the slow cooker, turn the cooker to “HIGH” and assess the situation. If your beans are covered by at least 2 inches of water you’re doing fine. If they’re covered by less than that, you’ll want to put some more water on the boil to add as soon as possible. Set your timer for 3 hours and go do a crossword puzzle or play a board game with the family.
When three hours are up, you’re going to do a test. Use a spoon to reach into the cooker and quickly extract a couple beans, replacing the lid immediately. Hold them a few inches from your face and blow on them gently. If the skins curl up off the beans, they’re most likely done. Carefully take a bite through the center of one of the beans. If it’s tender, you’re all set. When you cook black beans or pinto beans, it’s not unusual for them to be done that quickly, especially if they’re relatively new beans. If they are done, you can use them immediately, divide them into containers for the freezer or stick straight into the fridge -tightly covered- in their own liquid for use within four or five days.
If you’re cooking a larger (or harder) bean -such as cannellini, garbanzo, butter bean, etc…- you’ll likely find that the beans are not yet tender in the center. Turn the slow cooker to the “LOW” setting, add additional boiling water (if needed) to cover the beans, and allow to continue cooking for about four hours before checking again. Repeat the test; extracting a couple beans quickly and replacing the lid, blowing on the beans and biting them. If they’re tender, pull them from the heat and use immediately or store for later. If they’re still tough, give them a couple more hours -making sure they have water to cover- and repeat the test. Do this until they test done. The batch of cannellini beans I cooked in the photos for this tutorial simmered overnight on “LOW” before they were done. In my own experience, garbanzo beans (the stuff of my hummus dreams) have taken the longest time to cook by far. Just be prepared to let them cook away. And, for pete’s sake, don’t sweat testing it if you have to let it cook overnight. Beans are pretty resilient as long as you’re cooking them in enough water. And if you overcook them there’s always bean dip!
If you choose to freeze the beans for later use, divide the beans into one or two cup servings between containers. Be sure to leave enough room to ladle cooking liquid over them so they don’t dry out and to account for expansion of the liquid as it freezes. Make sure the lid of the container fits tightly and stash in the freezer for later use. (Alternately, you can carefully scoop the beans and their liquid into zipper-top freezer bags taking care to seal them completely. The bonus of this method is they lay flat to freeze and thus take up less room.) Frozen beans will keep well for about two to three months in the deep chill. After that they begin to deteriorate a bit in texture and in taste. Not the end of the world, but after that point they’re only good for bean dip. (All roads lead to bean dip in this house.)