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.

  Leave a reply


  1. Dried beans will always be hard no matter how long you soak or cook if your water is hard. That’s where the term hard water comes from. Water heavy in minerals makes for very hard beans. I have to use bottled water or my beans can cook a week and be hard mush.

  2. Veronica, that’s exactly what I’ve always done, boil for 10 mins then bung in the slow cooker.

  3. I use the pressure cooker to cook beans without soaking. Put your beans in the cooker, add at least 3 times their volume in water, bring up to pressure and let hiss for 30 seconds – 1 minute, depending on age of beans. Let the pressure fall naturally. At this point they will be about as soft as they would be if you soaked them overnight. Discard the water and either add fresh and pressure-cook for 20 minutes (haricots — other types may take more or less time) or continue with your recipe as if you were using soaked beans. Using this method I can make a good pasta e fagioli in under an hour!

    Agreed on not adding salt till beans are soft, and having a fast boil early in the process to remove toxins. But I had the impression you did boil them for 10 mins first, Fiona, before adding to the slow cooker? I’m sure Delia specifies this step for exactly this reason.

  4. A nice long soak helps insure that your beans will cook evenly. Fresher dried beans also cook much more quickly and evenly than old ones, and they taste better too. It doesn’t hurt a thing to add salt to the water. However, adding acidic ingredients, including tomatoes, will ensure that your beans stay hard forever. Conversely, if your beans are cooked through and you want to cook them longer (to reheat or to cook down some liquid, or whatever), adding some acid at that point will prevent them from falling apart utterly.

  5. hi your spam bot will probably stop this link but have a read for the info on soaking beans you don’t have to let it thru as a post just thought it might be useful for you


  6. For the 1st time in years I have just cooked chick peas. I usually buy the can, they’re guaranteed soft & very convenient but they are getting very expensive so I soaked a big bag o/n & then cooked for 1.5 – 2 hrs. They were fine so I froze them open on a tray & then when frozen I broke them up & stored them in a big bag in the freezer. I’ve just grabbed a handful & tossed them in a curry with a washed tin of baked beans. It’s inspired me to have a go with haricots next & then I can have them without all that disgusting synthetic tasting sauce. It does seem hit & miss though whether they cook or stay hard.

  7. Many of the dried beans I buy in the UK take hours to cook. I always use the quick soak method (one hour after the ten minute boil) as I did in the US before immigrating. Dried beans can be stored for a few years but for some reason many of the dried beans in the stores here only have a year left before the use by date. I suspect this is because people eat less dried beans here and so it takes a while to sell all the stock.

  8. I swear by bean-cooking in the pressure cooker! I soak the beans for 1-2 hours and cook for anything between 5-15 min depending on type/size/age of bean and if I want the beans fully cooked or not. And agree with Pat: never add salt to the water. I cook large batches of beans and freeze in portions ready to tip into stews etc. (Long time lurker, first time commenting – love your writing and recipes!)

  9. on the subject of presoaked, tinned beans… Lidl is selling a range of beans including cannelloni, butter and borlotti beans (though sadly they’re plain pink, not speckled) in tins quite cheaply, i got a tin of borlotti for 24p today. not huge baked bean sized, slightly smaller.

  10. Danny Carey


    I have checked myself over with extreme care and can confirm that I still live and breathe.

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