beany bean bean beans
January 6, 2010 4:52 AM   Subscribe

Black beans. WTF? I like black beans, but I can never get them to cook out to be as soft as those from a can. Hope me, axe metafilterz!

I soak my beans. I've soaked them for 8 hours, I've soaked them for 16 hours, I've soaked them for 24 hours, I've soaked them for 36 hours. All are fail.

I then rinse my beans.

I then cook my beans in some water. This water is very hot, and the stove is on high. Sometimes I cook them for 2 hours. Sometimes I cook them for 4 hours. Sometimes I cook them for 6 or 8 or 10 hours. And my beans are still slightly crunchy.

This has happened with different batches of dried black beans from different producers in different countries. So, not that. What should I do?
posted by beerbajay to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I still stand by this recipe from the fantastic Memories of a Cuban Kitchen. You cannot go wrong if you follow those instructions, and you will end up with nummy, Cuban-style black beans.

The rest of the thread, and a couple others, have some related good recipes and tips that may help you out. Here and here in particular.
posted by whatzit at 4:58 AM on January 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

I would try boiling the black beans on the stove in water or chicken broth and then cook them a slow cooker. You can soak overnight, boil, and then add to crockpot. I find that you must boil them because even dried beans that were soaked overnight still do not get soft when I cook them in the crockpot. Here is a recipe for slow cooker pinto beans. You can substitute black beans and leave out or add what you will.
posted by Fairchild at 5:02 AM on January 6, 2010

Are you adding tomato paste or lemon juice to the liquid in which you're cooking the beans? Acids can keep the beans intact and firm, which is good if you're cooking for long periods of time and you don't want them to turn into mush, but bad if you want softer beans.
posted by electroboy at 5:13 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tyler Florence. We use a pressure cooker at the restaurant I work at, and it's our "go-to" tool for beans. Great for tons of other slow cooked, braised foods. Alton Brown
posted by JABof72 at 5:14 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been cooking beans of all sorts several times a week for over 20 years, and in my experience the best method by far is the pressure cooker. I just cannot get the same results with any other method. With a pressure cooker, it is completely unnecessary to soak the beans first, and they come out plump and tender every time.

One other possible issue is that you may have hard water, in which case you can add a pinch of baking soda to your water and see if that helps.
posted by HotToddy at 5:15 AM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I agree with electroboy - bean firmness is all about acids and bases and Science!. Try adding some baking soda to your soaking water to bring up the pH.
posted by soma lkzx at 5:50 AM on January 6, 2010

Response by poster: Hrm okay. I'm not adding acids, nor am I adding additional basics, and am also not using a pressure cooker.
posted by beerbajay at 5:55 AM on January 6, 2010

Totally agree about the pressure cooker. I still soak my beans for about eight hours before cooking.
posted by smalls at 5:58 AM on January 6, 2010

Yes - baking soda. Add about 1 tsp of baking soda to the pot. I used to have the same problem, tough skins, chunky texture. Cooking with a bit of baking soda made all the difference - soft and tender, just like canned beans.
posted by amme at 6:01 AM on January 6, 2010

The reason the baking soda works for some is probably because of hard water. Use soft water if you can.

Don't add salt to the soaking water, either (but don't worry about the salt in softened water -- use that if you have it.) And change the water once or twice when soaking.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:17 AM on January 6, 2010

I too have heard that the baking soda trick works.

I wonder what a rice cooker would do for beans?
posted by gjc at 6:18 AM on January 6, 2010

I've heard that black beans take a while to soften (if you're cooking them from a dried state), and that the older the bean, the longer it takes. If you've been getting them from a supermarket, and going for the cheaper brands, they may not have had a great turnover -- which means you could be using old beans. Try finding a place that sells them in bulk -- they may be fresher, so they may cook quicker.

Also, try a different method of soaking - instead of just soaking overnight, try putting them in a big pot of water and boiling the hell out of them for a couple minutes, and THEN soak them. (This soaking method also cuts down on the....digestive after-effects.)

Personally, I like firm beans -- but crunchy isn't very good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've had good luck using the method where you put the beans in water, boil the water, then turn off the heat and let them soak overnight - the same thing Empress Callipygos recommends.
posted by Miko at 6:52 AM on January 6, 2010

Using a pressure cooker without soaking, it only takes about an hour for black beans to be completely done.
posted by cog_nate at 7:26 AM on January 6, 2010

Soaking really only speeds up the cooking process by 30 minutes or so. That said, dropping the beans into boiling water for a couple of minutes then soaking for several hours does help alleviate some of the "digestive after-effects" [10-12c water to 1lb beans]. Bases, like baking soda, will break down the skin, while acids keep the skin intact - both will slightly alter the taste of the beans. If you suspect you have hard water, and don't want to risk a baking-soda-flavored batch of beans, try cooking with a water purchased from the grocery store and see if it makes a difference.

For cooking, you should boil the water first, then add the beans (rather than bringing the beans and water to a boil). Then reduce the heat and simmer for several hours. Black beans, without a pressure cooker, should only take a couple hours. You can also use a slow cooker for the "simmering" after the initial boiling.

***Make sure you're using a really large pot, so you don't overcrowd the beans and they can fully absorb the water.***

For bean selection, make sure you buy packages with the least amount of broken, shriveled, or too-dry-looking beans (those will be older and take longer to cook). Rinse the beans before the boiling/soaking process (if using), and pick out any of the aforementioned deformed beans.

If you have a local restaurant that makes tasty black beans, you can always ask them which brand they buy.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:58 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've cooked a lot of black beans (or beans in general) both at restaurants and at home, and it sounds like you are on the right path. The fact is, you do not need any special tricks to get soft beans. Just time.

I soak my beans overnight, about 8-12 hours. Rinse the beans. Put in a pot of water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

I can only assume that this might be where your problem comes in. Make sure the beans are constantly simmering. There needs to be bubbles at all times. It will still take 1.5-2 hours to cook probably. Just let it keep going...they will get there eventually, I promise!
posted by BradNelson at 9:06 AM on January 6, 2010

If you are adding salt to the soak water, don't. Also, don't add salt until you are about ready to be finished with the beans. The salt will keep them hard.
posted by TheBones at 9:27 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I pre-soak my beans for about 8 hours. Pressure cooker for a few minutes. Done. Beans are incredibly simple in a pressure cooker. I highly recommend that route.
posted by Craig at 9:53 AM on January 6, 2010

Change the soak water a few times. But the pressure cooker is what will really make the biggest difference.
posted by GuyZero at 10:56 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

we eat black beans often. family favorites. people here usually soak them in water overnight and then boil them in a pressure cooker. my mom has an alternative method where she doesn't soak them. instead she takes the cooker off the stove after five minutes and puts it back after half an hour. we always add salt and they always come out soft. another ten minutes makes it almost creamy.
posted by niyati182 at 11:02 AM on January 6, 2010

When I cook black beans I soak them overnight, rinse/change water, add seasoning, and cook in a crock pot.
posted by toadliquor at 5:44 PM on January 6, 2010

Another recommendation for using a pressure cooker. I've always had the same problem, no matter what I tried, the beans never got soft enough. I received a pressure cooker as a gift and now I'll never cook beans any other way.
posted by mumbleitaliano at 6:18 PM on January 6, 2010

I tried the tsp of baking soda tonight with my red beans, and even halved the amt of soda to half a tsp. It was so gaggy and disgusting that I literally couldn't swallow it. I'm a huge fan of red beans and rice, and wanted to give this a try to cut down on the cooking time, which is usually forfuckingever. But now just the smell of the beans is making me sick. And the taste is vomitous.

No baking soda ever again. UGH. It definitely leaves a taste.
posted by iconomy at 10:54 PM on January 7, 2010

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