Are you supposed to soak the beans?


You may have noticed that some of the long-standing conflicts in the kitchen are dualities, one side presented as a better choice against the other: unsalted or salted butter, for example, or seasoned cast iron. compared to the non-stick. The slow cooker or the instant pot? Redheads or waxes? Salt at the beginning of an embers, or towards the end? Bake on a silicone sheet or parchment paper?

Truth be told, all of these are false dilemmas, as there are also suitable intermediate means or, in many cases, ready-made third or fourth choices. So, how are you.

Always refrigerate dried beans cooked in their cooking juices until later use. (Bill St. John, Denver Post Special)

However, a debate has persisted as a duality for decades, if not centuries, about whether to soak dry beans – or not, and just cook them right away.

Soaking is done overnight or for hours, or a kind of “quick soak” like covering them with water, bringing them to a boil, turning off the heat and waiting an hour.

All the old cookbooks in my library (The American Woman’s Cook Book, 1930; Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cook Book, 1886; The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1896; Joy ​​of Cooking, 1931; even James Beard’s Theory & Practice of Good Cooking, 1977) stipulate an overnight or 12 hour soak, in “soft” water often in italics as an accent while waving your fingers. (Some also support what Beard calls “quick cure,” which is the boil and let stand option.)

Another dilemma is when to salt the beans, if at all. Generations of grandmothers warn never to salt beans until cooking is complete, otherwise the hard skins never completely soften. Nowadays, a legion of food scientists urge to salt the soaking water before boiling it precisely to soften the skin and ensure a soft, plush interior. (I dirty like I voted when I lived in Chicago, early and often.)

My favorite bean counter Steve Sando, owner and farmer of Rancho Gordo in Napa, Calif. (And where I buy all my original dry beans and whose recipe I prepared and tested for this column) cooks dried beans for so long that he has taught himself and his pots what he has found best.

Here is what he says: “My current technique, and so far foolproof, is this: soaked or not, bring the beans and water to a boil and keep them there for 15, maybe even 20 minutes. . Not a little simmer but a quick boil.

“This initial intimidation makes it clear to the beans that you are in charge and that there is no turning back. Then reduce the heat as low as you can. If you’re in a hurry, a good simmer is perfect. If you cook for fun, the milder the stew the better. Low and slow and laden with love.

As for the melodious spirit among us while eating the “musical fruit”? There is no need, as food scientist Harold McGee wisely writes, to throw away or change the soaking water. “This leaches out the water-soluble oligosaccharides,” he writes, “but it also releases significant amounts of water-soluble vitamins, minerals, simple sugars and pigments from the seed coat; that is, nutrients, flavor, color and antioxidants. It is a high price to pay.

Pellegrino Artusi has ancient advice for sound in his 1891 “The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well”, the most important Italian cookbook of modern times (and the first to be written entirely in Italian) .

This is a masterful example of Italian diplomacy and discretion: “The beans take a long time to leave the body, soothing hunger for a long time. But… and even here there is a but, as there is so often in the affairs of this world – and I think you understand what I mean. For partial protection, choose fine-shelled beans or pass them through a sieve.

Baked cassoulet beans with summer squash and corn. (Bill St. John, Denver Post Special)

Baked cassoulet beans with summer squash and corn

From Makes 1 gratin dish; serves 4-6. To be vegetarian, omit the optional pancetta or bacon from the original. The bean recommendations are from the author of the recipe; you can use any medium to large size dried white beans of your choice. The cooking time is adjusted according to the altitude of the Colorado.


  • 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil, plus more for garnish
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (crusty bread torn into small pieces or cut into cubes)
  • 1 large tomato, sliced, plus 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound summer squash, very thinly sliced
  • 2 ears of corn, kernels removed
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon zest and more for finishing
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3-4 cups cooked Rancho Gordo Cassoulet beans, drained Ayocote Blanco, Royal Corona or Flageolet beans, a little reserved cooking liquid
  • Grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Fresh mint or chopped basil


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an ovenproof casserole dish. In a small skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add breadcrumbs and stir, fry until lightly browned. Put aside.

Arrange the tomato slices so that they cover the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of squash slices, then garnish with corn kernels and cherry tomatoes. Keep about a quarter of the squash, corn, and cherry tomatoes for the top layer. Sprinkle with minced garlic, lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste. Add a layer of beans over the vegetables. Pour about 1/4 cup of the bean broth over the beans (just enough to wet them). On top of the beans, add another layer of squash, corn and cherry tomatoes. Garnish with breadcrumbs. Drizzle with olive oil or, if you prefer, sprinkle with butter.

Bake for about 30-45 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are golden and the squash is tender. Before serving, drizzle with a little more olive oil and sprinkle with a generous amount of cheese, fresh herbs and lemon zest.

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