Food & Drink

How-tos for cooking beans and avoiding bean gas

Cooking dried beans

Dried beans are best cooked in a saucepan or pot on top of the stove, in a pressure cooker or in the oven.

■ Microwave ovens are not satisfactory for cooking dried legumes because long, slow simmering is required for complete rehydration and cooking.

■ Beans do not cook well in a crock pot. The low setting is too low, lengthening the cooking time to 16 to 20 hours. And depending on the age of the beans and the hardness of the water, the beans might not cook at all.

■ The basic principles of cooking dried beans are the same no matter which method you use. Dried beans require water or other liquid, oil or other fat, and salt. Any acidic ingredients called for must be added at the specified time.

Water or other liquid is needed to soften the beans as they cook. There must be enough liquid to keep the beans covered so they will cook uniformly. Any beans not covered during cooking will dry out and be inedible.

■ Salt might be necessary to give beans flavor. There is some dispute as to the best time to add the salt to the beans. Some cooks add the salt only after the beans have been softened in cooking. Others prefer to add the salt to the cooking water with the beans. Adding salt at the beginning of cooking results in more flavorful beans and does not significantly influence the cooking time or tenderness of the beans. For average taste, 1 teaspoon of salt in the cooking water for each cup of beans is about right.

■ To cook beans, place the drained beans into a large pot or Dutch oven and cover with 6 cups fresh water for each pound (2 cups) of beans, or to about one inch above the beans. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons oil (to prevent boiling over) and seasonings as desired. Boil gently with lid tilted until tender when taste tasted, 11/2 to 2 hours. Add hot water as needed to keep beans just covered with liquid.

Most recipes will tell you to cook beans until tender. To check for tenderness, pinch or bite a few beans at a minimum suggested time, then every 10 to 15 minutes until the beans are tender.

■ Baking in the hot dry air of the oven is a slow process, but it's the only way to create the glazed, crusty-top characteristic of baked beans and bean pot casseroles. Generally, oven cooking is used in combination with cooking in a pressure cooker or in a saucepan on top of the stove. Be sure the beans are not overcooked before baking, or they will be mushy.

■ Leftover beans should be cooled and then refrigerated in an airtight container. They will usually keep at least 4 days.

Source: Central Bean Company

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