Question of the Month: What’s the best way to cook beans?

March 08, 2016

Worth a Hill of Beans

When something has no value, we say it’s worth “a hill of beans.” So why do beans get such a bad rap? What could be more comforting than some velvety, flavorful beans with a little cheese, a squeeze of lime and maybe a touch of sour cream wrapped in a flour tortilla hot off the comal? Especially if you’ve ever tasted Rancho Gordo Heirloom Beans you’ll know what we mean. Fresh, flavorful and nearly addictive, it’s easy to see why these beans are used by Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Napa and by several other amazing chefs across the country. One ex-pat we know even devotes precious luggage space to RG beans when he flies back to Paris after a Bay Area visit.

What’s the best way to cook beans?

An age-old debate. Actually, a few debates. To soak or not to soak? Cook in fresh water or the soaking liquid? To add salt or not? There is no consensus, but a lot depends on the beans themselves. If they aren’t fresh (less than 2 years old) they will not cook well. Fresher beans don’t have to be soaked, but it will speed up the cooking time. As for salting, the flavor falls flat if they aren’t salted while cooking, but the trick is WHEN to salt them, so as not to toughen the skins. Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo recommends salting the beans when you start smelling the beans and not the vegetables you sautéed before cooking them. (You did sauté some veggies in the pot for flavor, right?) Steve has a great video on cooking the beans here

We have two favorite methods for cooking beans, the first one very close to Steve’s, but we use a Chamba Bean Pot (the 3.5 qt. SS3 is perfect for a pound of beans!) which gives them a texture and flavor that you don’t get from metal due to the unglazed clay and the smokiness of the firing process. For the vegetarians out there, it’s like adding a ham hock without having to add a ham hock! The second method? We love using the pressure cooker to cook our beans, especially if we are in a hurry. Want fresh, tasty beans in just a little more time than it takes to open a can and heat them? Yeah, we can do that!

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