The Soaking Question, Again

I recently received this email:

I made a pot of the Good Mother Stallard beans over the weekend. Did a
2 day soak and they still took (what I consider) a long time to reach
tenderness – more than 2 hours. I used the cassoulet beans and other
such that I bought without incident. What should I do next time?

The breakdown

Cover in cold water for 24 hrs, added water and let sit another 24 hours.
and added to pot of half water/half chicken stock. Boiled for about 10
mins then sent on med-low to cook in cover pot. After 90 mins, still
slightly hard. Kicked it up to med heat for another 45 and achieved the
desired tenderness. Is it just the bean or did I do something incorrect.


I’ve said it before, but beans harvested within two years and stored properly don’t need much soaking. Harold McGee in his classic On Food and Cooking says the bulk of the rehydration occurs within the first two hours. My very unscientific theory is that the fresh beans start to ferment or start the first stages of sprouting when you soak them so long. For what it’s worth, I soak 2-4 hours and Joan, who runs our Operations, never soaks at all.

6 Comments on The Soaking Question, Again

  1. How much sodium was in that chicken stock? I’m not sure why, but salt slows down the cooking process. We only add salt after the beans have reached the desired tenderness.

  2. Dangnabbit, I wish I had tivo for my radio.

    A few months ago I caught Narsai David’s local spot on the am dial. It was all about do we soak, quick soak, add baking soda or what?

    He had some very coherent responses as to what and why that worked and/or didn’t. What I ultimately was lead to believe is that what I’ve been doing is correct, at least as far as Narsai is concerned. Boil water, remove from heat and put prepped beans in said hot water. Let sit for 45 to an hour. Refresh water and simmer until tender.

    I only chose that method cause I don’t have days to make beans, that ain’t right. Get it good and get it doned. I need to find you so I can get me some badass beans for my happy meals.

    xo, Biggles

  3. Tom, salt in the stock was a good call. I didn’t notice that. But ultimately, there is no reason to soak beans for 2 days.

    Dr, the theory about what you are doing is this reduces gas (allegedly). If the beans are in hot water, they’re cooking so you might as well let them keep cooking, don’t you think? It’s not like the old water is inhibiting the cooking process.

    Fresh dried beans (meaning within two years of harvest) can soak for 2-4 hours and cook in 1-2 hours, in general. But if you are happy with your method, keep it up. I’ve said this before, but bean people are like martini drinkers in that they are very passionate about their methods of preparation.

  4. I have read in Shirley Corriher’s “Cookwise” that dried legumes stored in high humidity are the hardest, and that soaking them in salt water before cooking can soften them and shorten their cooking time. Presumably this special type of soak draws some water out by way of the concentration gradient). One then cooks them as normal, in unsalted water. I have not tested this myself.

  5. How are you supposed to know if your dried beans are less than two years old? I mean, you can’t look them in the eye, or check their gills, so if I’m at Whole Foods, buying beans….how will I know?

  6. Good question, Judith. You really just have to know your beanseller, like say, for example, Rancho Gordo. Whole Foods may be ok but I bet different branches go through stock at different rates.
    If I don’t know how old the beans are, I soak for 8 hours, just to be safe, and plan on them taking forever, just in case.

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