Saturday, October 23, 2021

Get Cooking: To soak beans or not

You may have noticed that some of the long-standing disputes in cooking are dualities, with one side pitting against the other as to the better option: unsalted or salted butter, for example, or non-stick versus seasoned cast iron. Crockpot or Instant Pot? Russet or waxy? To salt at the beginning or towards the end of a braise? To bake on a silicone sheet or parchment paper?

Truth be told, these are all false dilemmas, as there are also suitable methods in between, or, in many cases, out-of-the-box third or fourth options. so it goes.

Always refrigerate cooked dried beans in their cooking liquid until they are used. (Bill St. John, Exclusive to The Denver Post)

However, a debate has persisted for decades, even centuries, as a dichotomy as to whether or not to soak dried beans, and only cook them directly.

Soaking is done overnight or for hours, or some sort of “quick soak” such as covering them with water, boiling them, turning off the heat, and waiting for an hour.

All the old-time cookbooks in my library (The American Woman Cook Book, 1930; Mrs. Roarer’s Philadelphia Cook Book, 1886; The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1896; The Joy of Cooking, 1931; even James Beards The Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, 1977) Schedule an overnight or 12-hour soak in italicized “soft” water in the form of finger-waving thrust. (Some people also second what lard calls “a quick treatment,” which is a boil-and-stand alternative.)

Another dilemma is when to salt the beans. Grandmothers’ generations have warned never to salt beans until they’re done cooking, otherwise the tough skins don’t soften completely. Nowadays, a group of food scientists recommend salting the soaking water before boiling to soften the skins and guarantee a soft, cushiony inside. (When I lived in Chicago, early and often I would salt when I voted.)

My favorite bean counter, Steve Sandow, owner and farmer, at Rancho Gordo in Napa, Calif. (and from whom I buy all of my heirloom dried beans and whose recipe I prepared and tested for this column) has been cooking dried beans for so long. Cooking from that he has taught himself and his utensils to do what he has found best.

Here’s what he says: “My current, and so far foolproof, technique is: soaking or not, bring the beans and water to a full boil and keep it there for 15, maybe even 20 minutes. Not a gentle boil but a rapid boil.

“This initial bullying makes it clear to the beans that you’re in charge and there’s no turning back. Then turn the heat down as low as you can. If you’re in a hurry, a good simmer is fine. If you’re eating for pleasure The best Simar is the best. Low and slow and full of love.”

Nation World News Desk
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