How do we cook beans correctly? Here’s how

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 20, 2016

Beans with ham.

Beans with ham.

Since my husband is still on the mend, I am looking for recipes for sources of iron. I found that clams, beef, lamb, liver, nuts, green leafy vegetables, tofu, beans, and chocolate are some of the better sources of iron. I focused in on the beans since I like them very much and make a big pot of them almost every week.

People have been cooking beans for ages but what is the right way? Maybe we need some basics.

Soak those beans. You do not have to do it but it will save you cook time in a big way. Cover them with several inches of cold water and refrigerate them overnight. They may start to sprout or ferment if your kitchen is too warm.

Transfer your beans to a heavy pot and top off with a couple inches of water. It is not necessary to toss the soaking liquid. Bring them to a gentle simmer, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Aggressive boiling might cook them a bit faster, but they will be more likely to break apart. After this, it is time to add aromatics like onions, chili, or garlic if you like, along with dried and/or fresh herbs like bay leaves, thyme sprigs, rosemary sprigs etc. Hold off on salt and acidic ingredients like tomatoes at this point.

Cook, partly covered, until beans are tender. Some beans fall apart, and some are better at staying firm. Now add the salt at this point until the broth, not the beans, tastes well-seasoned. Taste the liquid because it takes about half an hour for the beans to absorb the salt. Now you can add tomatoes or other acidic components, it you like.

Unless you plan on using the beans right away, let the beans cook completely in their liquid. Don’t throw away the bean broth. They will keep refrigerated for about five days, ready to become dinner at a moment’s notice. They also freeze beautifully too, so use some deli pints and quart containers and freeze them. So you can cook a lot of beans.

Not all beans are created equal. Buy your beans the same way you buy your produce or meat. Find a source you can trust, and pay a little extra for higher quality. Heirloom beans boast more complex flavors than what you find in your standard bag of supermarket legumes. When cooked properly, they barely need any embellishment at all beyond salt. There is a whole world of stunning, richly flavored heirloom beans, and some websites are:,, and

One must remember that beans without fat and salt are like bread without butter. They are just not worth eating. Beans don’t have the kind of internal fat that, say, a steak has-on their own. But add a schmaltz or lard and a healthy amount of salt and all of a sudden they taste great.

Meat knows how to be a good friend to beans without being too clingy—only small amounts are needed to really make a bean dish sing. This meat-as-flavor concept is economical and decently healthy. I usually buy a smoked ham hock to cook with my beans. It makes them have a wonderful flavor and the meat is a nice addition to the meal.

Try this bean dish. I have done it twice and find it delicious!

From bon appétit, February/2016.

Schmaltz-Refried Pinto Beans

Cook 3 ounce slab bacon, sliced ¼ “ thick, in a large saucepan over medium heat, turning often, until browned and lightly crisped, 8-10 minutes. Add 1 chopped large onion and 4 chopped garlic cloves and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 8-10 minutes. Add 1 dried chile de arbol, seeds removed, crushed, or ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes and ½ tsp. ground cumin and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add 1 ½ cups pinto beans, soaked overnight, and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally and adding more water if needed, until beans are tender and beginning to fall apart, 1 ½ -2 hours. Season with salt and pepper and let sit 30 minutes. Heat ½ cup schmaltz (chicken fat), lard, or vegetable oil in a pot or skillet over medium. Add beans and their cooking liquid and cook, mashing with a potato masher, until beans are nearly smooth and very thick, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1 tsp. apple cider. Season with salt, pepper, and more vinegar, if desired. Thin with water if needed to loosen just before serving.

Do Ahead: Beans can be cooked and/or refried 3 days ahead. Let cook; cover and chill.

Makes 8 servings.