The Cottage Smallholder

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Is it better to soak dried beans overnight or use the ‘quick soak’ method?

Bean face

Bean face

I found some half price braising steak and parsnips on offer at the weekend. Both were tossed into my trolley along with a chunky bag of carrots and a can of Guinness. It’s the perfect weather for a beef in Guinness stew.

As I was chopping the vegetables Danny piped up.
“Do you know what would be really great with this dish. Some butter beans and the flageolets that were in the Pheasant and Venison Casserole à La Beastley. They were so tasty and packed with flavour.”
A year ago Danny would never have dreamt that beans could be good in anything.

I was delighted. The beans would pad out the protein element and possibly add a great new twist to beef in beer. There was just one problem.

I hadn’t soaked any beans.

Then I remembered that Delia Online has a method for fast track soaking. You put the beans in a large saucepan of cold water, bring it to the boil and simmer rapidly for ten minutes. Then remove from the heat and soak for a few hours.

We did that for Butter Beans and flageolets. After two hours tossed them into the slow cooker with the meat and vegetables. A few hours later everything was cooked apart from the beans.

I separated the beans from the stew this evening and simmered them for another four hours. Eventually hunger forced us to eat the stew without the beans.  They have now simmered for eight hours in and out of the stew and are just beginning to lose their bite.

The beans are well within date, they are from the same pack as the ones that we used last week. No salt was added. Was it down to a combination of fast soaking and cooking them in the slow cooker? The ones in the Beastley casserole were soaked overnight, cooked in the slow cooker and were perfect. I’d love to find the answer as it would be great to be able to cook with beans almost off the cuff so to speak.

Somehow soaking overnight seems a much simpler, stress free option at the moment. Saves on fuel too.

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  1. I struggle getting the dried beans soft as well, so I tend to use tinned now, they are not too expensive and guarantee a perfect result (the canning process has destroyed any poisons). Also I grow my own french beans and save the seed while still soft then freeze in freezer bags or old take away plastic tubs.

    I assume the french beans don’t have the poisons like kidney beans do?

  2. EEEEEEK! You should never cook beans in a slow cooker – most raw beans have poisonous proteins in that are destroyed by cooking at a high enough temperature but a slow cooker never reaches that temperature. You have to either pre-cook them till they’re soft before putting them in or use tinned beans

  3. kate (uk)

    I agree with Carol- lentils are fine , but beans…give me that can!

  4. I have tried lots of ways of using beans and have come to the conclusion that tinned are the best way. I’ve soaked beans for 24 hrs and then cooked without salt for about three and they were still hard.

  5. It’s a long time since I’ve used a slow cooker, but I seem to remember finding that it was too slow to cook beans. The ones you did last week, were they in the slow cooker?

    On the whole, I like Celia’s idea of cooking a whole batch and then freezing them for easy access. But that brings you into direct contact with a whole other set of problems, which I hope you’ve managed to resolve. If you have to get a new freezer, can we look forward to a post about turning the old one into a cold smoker?

  6. magic cochin

    I’d got used to buying tins of beans but after using our home grown beans at the ‘mature but not dry’ stage and realising the texture and flavour was far better, I thought it time to use proper dried beans. I soak them overnight and cook a big batch in the jam kettle with a foil lid (must ask santa for one of those big stock pots). Like Scintilla, I then freeze the beans in meal sized batches. It’s easy to grab a bag of frozen cooked beans for a casserole. I usually defrost, but I’m sure you could add the frozen beans to a slow pot.

    The plan is to grow lots of beans to dry for next winter 🙂


  7. Pressure cooker. Or the other answer is buy a few cans of the ready made ones for when you are in a rush… I know cheating and is slightly more expensive. Shop in the ethnic aisles (larger tesco and asda)and you will get chick peas and butter beans, cheaper than the own make.

    If you do have a tesco with an ethnic aisle, I bought 5kilos of basmati rice for £5. BARGAIN. That was last week! The brand was APNA. Check it out! I shudder when I think I have been to Tesco’s again. I havent shopped there for ages…

  8. Another possibility could be salt. I have heard where salt can cause the beans to stay hard and not soften up. So one should only salt beans after they have been cooked. I have used both methods and not had a problem here. I often forget to soak my beans.

  9. Scintilla

    I soak overnight and then cook them in the pressure cooker about 20mins. I’ll freeze leftovers in batches so they’re handy to add to soups and casseroles.

  10. I think your beans must have been old. I live in Chicago (second largest Latino population in US) and have learned a thing or two about beans from a few Mexican friends. I was shocked the first time I saw it, but apparently they don’t soak beans overnight. They slap ’em on the stove, bring to a boil and hard simmer for about 2-3 hours. It won’t work with beans of a certain age, but if your beans are relatively fresh, so purchased from a store that turns beans thru inventory, it works like a charm.

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