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. Catt of the Garage

    I came across this when looking for info on soaking beans, and I am now about 10 times more confused than I was.

    Let’s get this straight: you have to soak them for between 10 minutes and 24 hours, then boil them for between 10 minutes and 3 hours, put them in the pressure cooker, or the slow cooker, except you can’t put them in the slow cooker because they’ll stay hard and kill you, except they won’t, don’t add salt, or else do, don’t add anything acidic, add bicarb, or else don’t, and then you can freeze them, but you’d better not freeze them because of unspecified problems, and after you’ve done all this they’ll still be hard, so you might as well use a can.

    Well, that’s cleared that up!

  2. steve (not the one above)

    Err! Poisons? Drying beans for storage? whats that all about? am I missing something?
    I have always simply de-podded my broad beans and quickly blanched them prior to chucking them in the freezer, no need to soak, simply put in bowl of cold water and microwave for 10 mins!
    Mine are always soft but firm (not mushy)and the Bean-skin (testa) simply slides off if you like to remove it.

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Steve

    thanks so much for your tips!

  4. Dried beans will not soften if cooked in an acidic solution. You can add 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) per cup of beans to hasten the cooking and guarantee softening. Soaking more than 4 hours prior to cooking has no added benefit.

    All this from Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking”. He’s a food scientist and the final authority in my opinion.

  5. Quick soak – Well that’s a nifty tip!

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi James

      Unless you know that your dried beans are really’ fresh’ it’s better to use the overnight soak method.

  6. Forgot to mention in my recipe 1 chopped onion. I start cooking the beans and peas in rapidly boiling water for an hour, then I add the carrots, onions, salt, chopped fresh rosemary, pepper. I continue the soup on a lower heat until the beans are soft:-)

  7. When I make bean soup, I only use lima beans. I soak them in water for at least 24 hours without salt added to the water. The next day , my beans are doubled in bulk. Before starting to cook the soup , I add dried unsoaked peas to the pot, 6 chopped carrots, spices… I cook the soup on a slow boil for at least 4 hours, adding more water as needed. The result is a delicious thick soup with soft beans!

  8. Have to disagree with Susan and agree with Z on the hard water! The water here is about as hard as it gets, and I never have a problem with my pressure cooker method above. I also don’t need to boil the beans before combining them with other ingredients. For pasta e fagioli, I do the 1-minute blast to “soak” them, then add them to the rest of the ingredients as normal and cook for 15-20 minutes. Recipe here:

  9. I think the pre-boiling for ten minutes is instead of the long soak and you still need to boil them until they’re soft after the shortened soaking and before combining them with other ingredients. I always have a few tins of beans in the cupboard for last-minute decisions, but the fresh ones taste nicer. And cheap tinned beans and, especially, chickpeas aren’t nice at all.

    I have hard water, it doesn’t seem to stop my beans softening when I boil them.

  10. Hello! It has been forever since I posted on here as I’ve been abroad but I just had to add my two cents worth! When I soak beans I boil a kettle and pour the water onto the beans. Leave them till the water goes cold, drain them, pour on more boiling water and repeat. Two or three times of doing this and there’ll all swelled up and ready to boil till cooked and added to the stew/whatever. They need to be boiled till soft before putting in slow cooker or they don’t cook. I had that with a lamb and bean casserole and had to fish the beans out too. 🙁

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