Most of the beans we get (generally through Rancho Gordo), will come with instructions on the package which work quite well: rinse and clean, pre-soak, then put in a dutch oven with water, broth, or stock and aromatics like onion, garlic, salt and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, let boil for 5 minutes, and then cover and simmer on low or put in the oven at 250 degrees or so. They should cook in a couple of hours, and you can check every now and again once you hit the 100 minute mark or so.
You won't go wrong with those instructions, and you'll wind up with something miles better than anything from a can.
But, I'll let you in on a couple of bean secrets:
- You don't need to pre-soak. It'll shorten the cooking time if you do, but you can definitely get away with skipping that step if you didn't plan ahead, and it won't make a bit of difference for taste/texture. In fact, some people swear it's better if you don't.
- If you have an instant pot or other pressure cooker, this is totally the way to go. I usually set it for 30 minutes, then quick release. A small bean might be done at that time, but usually I find I need another 10-25 minutes back at pressure, followed by 10 or so minutes releasing pressure. But either way, that check mid-way through gives me a chance to stir the beans up, which helps them cook uniformly. Otherwise I find the ones on top often cook less than the rest.
- You can cook straight into a preparation (soup, chili), or you can make the beans with neutral seasonings, put them in jars, and then put in the fridge once they've cooled a bit. Then they'll keep for a couple weeks at least, and you can use however you like without needing to plan ahead.
- You can add other liquids that add great flavor to your cooking liquid — my favorites are soy sauce and apple cider vinegar. And that cooking liquid is like an incredibly flavorful stock on its own. If you’re cooking beans for later, be sure to save that leftover liquid (often called liquor), and use it in your next soup, stew, or hearty sauce.
In terms of quantity, I find that a 32-oz jar or box of stock, plus a few glugs of soy sauce and vinegar, is enough cooking liquid for a 1-lb bag of beans. But you won't go wrong with more liquid -- just means more liquor to use later!
This photo is what I mean by "jarring" beans ahead of time. Just use cleaned, leftover pasta sauce jars (or other ways you can collect pint or quart jars). I got a little Ball canning set at some point that came with the funnel I'm using, but there's lots of ways to get the beans in. I generally separate the beans from the broth by picking the beans out with a big slotted spoon, and then jarring the broth separately.
I'll have lots more followups with specific recipe ideas for specific beans: this is just a general orientation and de-mistifier in case dried beans are intimidating for you, as they once were for me.
What'd I miss? How do you like your beans? Comment below!