There is no canned bean type on the planet that can compare to the taste of dried beans. Of course, that great flavor depends on how well they are cooked. Properly preparing and cooking dried beans can be a little labor intensive, but in the end all your efforts will be well worth it. To help you achieve this great taste, below we have outlined and explained the various steps for properly cooking dried beans. We have also included a section on how to store the cooked beans in the refrigerator and discussed how long they will typically last in this environment.
How to Cook Dried Beans
Canned beans represent an easy and convenient way to enjoy beans. After all, every canned bean was once cooked as a dried bean, and then popped into a can before they headed for your grocery aisle. The problem with canned beans, however, is that most manufacturers tend to use a lot of preservatives that can alter the taste of the beans. Thus, their flavor is pretty one-dimensional and not particularly satisfying. On the flip side, dried beans that have been prepared and cooked properly, well-seasoned and made with aromatics have a rich earthiness to them and a flavor that really cannot be described.
When you decide to cook dried beans, there are scores of options out there from which to choose. From white beans to black beans and everything in between, there is a limitless option of these delicious legumes. Dried beans are grown fresh and then dehydrated at the manufacturer to extend their shelf life. This does not mean, however, that they have an “endless” shelf life, which is why it is so important to carefully choose the beans you intend to cook.
Below we will take you step by step through the dried bean cooking process, explaining each step in detail as we go.
Step One: Selecting Your Beans
There are essentially two ways to buy dried beans. First, you can select dried beans that have already been prepackaged, and second, you can choose your own dried beans from the bins at your local grocery store. If you choose the first method, that is perfectly okay, but keep in mind there are some drawbacks. When selecting pre-packaged beans you can only choose beans of a single variety. Also, choosing to go with pre-packaged beans means you “get what you get,” even if some of the beans in that package are off-colored, damaged or shriveled.
For the reasons, explained above, we recommend you choose the second method: picking your own beans. In doing this you can get a wide variety of beans to cook together, which will really enhance their flavor. You can also be sure that no preservatives were added that may alter the taste. However, if you do choose method number two, be sure to sift through the beans carefully and thoroughly. Chances are there will be a few beans in those bins that are damaged or shriveled, and these are the ones you want to avoid. Once you have selected the perfect beans for cooking, you are ready to move on to the next step.
Step Two: Rinsing the Beans
If you elect to get dried beans from a package, you can usually skip this step. That’s because pre-packaged dried beans have already been rinsed at the manufacturing plant. However, if you choose to pick your own beans, it’s important to rinse them, as they may contain dirt or dust, not to mention how many pairs of hands might have been in those bean bins prior to your purchase.
The best way to rinse dried beans is in a colander. Simply pour the beans into the colander and pour cold running water into it. Either by shaking the colander or moving the beans around with your hands, sift through the beans as the water is running to make sure every bean gets properly rinsed.
Step Three: Soak the Beans
There has long been a debate on whether or not dried beans should be soaked prior to cooking them. And the answer is: it depends. Most beans have very medium to thick outer coatings or skins. These skins can make those beans difficult to cook if they are not pre-soaked, as the hardness will prevent the needed moisture from penetrating the beans. Of course, you could always just cook these beans for a longer period of time, but soaking them prior to the cooking process usually yields much better results.
There are some bean varieties with very thin skins. These include black beans, black-eyed peas, split peas and lentils. If these are the types of beans you intend to cook, you can skip the soaking step and move onto step four.
When cooking any other types of beans not mentioned above, such as white beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, etc., we highly recommend you soak them prior to cooking. Again, these beans CAN be cooked without soaking, but unless you know for certain that the beans are VERY fresh (the skins get thicker as they age), you should definitely soak them first.
Before you soak the beans, keep in mind that those beans will tend to swell when soaked. Because of this, it is vital that you add enough water so that all the beans are completely submerged. Beans can swell to more than twice their original size when soaked, and unless all the beans are completely submerged, they may cook very unevenly later.
To soak the beans, pour them into a large pot or container and add enough cold water to completely submerge them. Next, add two to five pinches of salt to taste. This will give the beans a very pleasant taste later on. You do not need to cover the beans. Instead, allow the uncovered beans to soak on your countertop at room temperature for at least four to eight hours. If you are certain that the beans you are cooking are not very fresh (they have been in your pantry for 6 months, etc.), you might want to soak them for up to 24 hours. However, when soaking beans longer than 8 hours, it is crucial that you put them in the refrigerator after the 8 hours have expired. This will prevent the beans from fermenting. Once the beans have been soaked, drain them using a colander and proceed to the next step.
NOTE: If you do not have four to eight hours to allow the beans to soak, there is a faster soaking method that will work in a pinch. Instead of leaving the pot of salted, soaking beans on the countertop, place them on your stovetop and bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, remove the pot from the heat and allow the beans to soak in the heated water for an hour.
Step Four: Cooking the Beans
Now that your beans have been properly soaked, you are ready to cook them.
In a large pot add enough water so that all the beans are completely submerged. You should again salt the beans at this stage to taste. Next, you will want to add “aromatics.” This is a crucial step in the process, as aromatics will give the beans a totally unique and off-the-charts flavor. Aromatics can consist of any number of vegetables and herbs. Some veggies that work very well in this process are onions, carrots, garlic, celery and leeks, and maybe even a touch of fennel. Add your favorite “fresh” herbs to the beans, preferably the woodsy types of herbs like bay leaf, sage and rosemary.
Keep in mind that these aromatics will not be part of the finished product. You are only adding these vegetables and herbs to ramp up the flavor. With that being said, if you do not mind picking all of these substances out of the beans later on, go ahead and just add them straight to the pot of beans. For an easier solution, we recommend you wrap the veggies and herbs loosely in cheesecloth and tie off the cloth so the contents remain within.
Now that you have added the beans, water, salt and aromatics to your large pot, place that pot on the stovetop and bring the contents to a rapid boil. Once you have achieved a rolling boil, immediately turn the range down to a gentle simmer. DO NOT cook with heat that is more than a gentle simmer. Too much heat may cause the water to roll, shifting the beans into one another and risking breakage of those beans.
Continue to cook the beans with a gentle simmer and add more fresh water as needed to completely cover the beans. Be sure to skim the surface of the water from time to time to remove any foam that may rise. Cook the beans until they are very tender, with no trace of firmness or graininess. The time needed to achieve that state can vary from one bean type to another. It can also vary based on the freshness of the beans. Because of this, it’s best to begin checking the beans at about one hour, and then every 15 minutes after that until they are fully cooked and tender to the touch.
Once the beans have reached the desired state, you are now ready to enjoy them.
Storing Cooked Beans and How Long They Last in the Fridge
When storing cooked beans in the refrigerator, they can typically last anywhere from 3-5 days when stored correctly. It is important to get them into the refrigerator quickly—within an hour of their cooking. This will help them keep their much-needed moisture.
Proper storage of your now-cooked beans is not very difficult. First, always store them in the liquid you used to cook them. Not only will this keep them moist and fresh, it will also continue to flavor them as they sit. You can also add a little more salt to the liquid at this stage. Salt is a natural preservative and your beans may store for up to a week when heavily salted. For best results, store the beans in a Tupperware or similar container with a lid. If you do not have these storage containers, a bowl that is covered by tough plastic wrap or aluminum foil will do in a pinch.