Beans, the musical fruit
April 17, 2006 9:10 AM   Subscribe

I can't make beans. They just fall apart. Suggestions?

Every time I go to cook beans, I get to the stage where I've soaked them, and suddenly half of them have split in half or broken up even further. Is this common? My mom's beans never did this; indeed, they were awesome, whereas mine seem mediocre. What am I doing wrong? Does anyone have any suggestions about how best to cook beans?
posted by Viomeda to Food & Drink (15 answers total)
How long are you soaking them?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:23 AM on April 17, 2006

Beans react to salt in the water. I have hard water that is softened, so it has a high concentration of salt in it. Pasta takes half the time to cook; beans need much less soaking/cooking time. I'm still experimenting with actual soaking times for the optimal bean, so you probably have to experiment as well.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:30 AM on April 17, 2006

The acidity of the water, and the cooking environment has a lot to do with the bean's ability to not turn into mush. A little acidity will do wonders to help beans maintain their form, but not too much, or they will be hard(This is why people put molasses in baked beans) Likewise, to soften the beans, add something basic(Once again, moderation is key).
posted by potch at 9:35 AM on April 17, 2006

Response by poster: I'm soaking the beans two hours. (And I'm cooking in Santa Fe, which is high desert, very dry and 6800 feet elevation, if that helps.) The water I'm using is from a ground source. Is there any way to test the hardness? Do the beans react to water hardness, to salt, or to basic/acid quality? Are any of these related, maybe?
posted by Viomeda at 9:40 AM on April 17, 2006

Omg! I'm having trouble with beans too! But mine are too hard! I made 3 different pots of black beans, soaked the beans for 1-2 days before, and cooked for *way* too long (up to maybe 6 or 7 hours in one case), and they were still crunchy!!

I made some pinto beans the exact same way and they were fine. So maybe try a different kind of bean.
posted by beerbajay at 9:47 AM on April 17, 2006

What is the problem with black beans? I've never had a batch come out successfully, and it saddens me, because black beans (especially Brazilian-style) are among my favorite things on earth. Any trade secrets will be much appreciated.
posted by languagehat at 10:11 AM on April 17, 2006

This is my first post, black beans are one of my favorite beans and they are, for some reason harder to get right
but even black beans allready cooked in the can are fairly firm. I found this on a google search, hope it helps.

Soaking & Cooking:

Black beans, like all dried beans, need to be soaked before cooking. This hydration helps to reduce the cooking time. Because they are small, 2 - 4 hours soaking in cold water should suffice. Drain, and cook as per recipe.

If you don't have the time, boil the beans in water for 1 - 3 minutes, turn off heat, cover the pot and let them sit for one hour. Drain and proceed as per recipe. However, there is a problem with this quick soaking (boiling for 1 - 3 minutes) method. Hot water increases the solubility of the water soluble nutrients, and softens the cell membranes of the beans, further accelerating the loss of these nutrients. This should be a consideration, because of the long cooking time during which more nutrients are lost. Cold soaked and cooked at a very gentle simmer, beans retain most of their nutrients, which are considerable.

To cook, drain the soaking water and add cold water, 1 part beans to 2 or 3 parts cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a very slow simmer, so the beans stay in their jackets. Simmer for 2 hours.
posted by chivaago at 10:36 AM on April 17, 2006

many of these problems could be due to using old beans. Dried beans do not age particularly well, especially if not stored well (which they rarely are). Aged beans do not absorb water as well, nor react to salinity in predictable ways.
posted by markovitch at 10:36 AM on April 17, 2006

What potch and markovitch said. pH is key in determining whether you'll get a hard bean, a just-right bean, or a mush bean. Also, old beans won't cook up as well.
posted by rxrfrx at 10:38 AM on April 17, 2006

I tried pre-soaking dried black beans, but gave it up a long time ago. Now, I just rinse them in cold tap water, drain, and cook in lightly salted water, with cumin and a little soy sauce. Let the pot come to a rolling boil, then turn the heat down to a very slow boil and start timing. After about an hour and fifteen minutes you can lift a few out with a fork for a taste test. If they’re still a little crunchy, give them a few more minutes. But be aware that they will continue to soften as the pot cools. The same timing works well for red kidney beans, but most other varieties don’t take as long. Just test as you go.

Its not as much of a problem now as it used to be, but it’s a good idea (especially if you’re buying bulk bin organic) to first make sure there are no little dark pebble stowe-aways hiding in among your black beans. I found out the hard way that, no matter how long you cook pebbles, they’re still a lot harder than teeth.
posted by Huplescat at 11:44 AM on April 17, 2006

Beans come out great (tender but firm, skins intact but not tough) in a pressure cooker (with a couple of exceptions), cook much faster, and retain more nutrients. Lorna Sass' Cooking Under Pressure (Amazon link) is a great intro and reference to pressure cooking in general and beans in particular.
posted by TimeFactor at 12:19 PM on April 17, 2006

Here's the deal with beans:
Soak them as everyone else has suggested but then throw out the soaking water. Boil a seperate pot of water and get it really hot (full rolling boil), add whatever flavoring you intend to add (bacon, onions, peppers, spices, salt), boil those for a minute or two and THEN drop your soaked beans into the very very hot water. This will seal the little bean envelope and keep them from going all gooey on you. I learned this trick from my southern grandmother years ago and to this day, I can still make black eyed peas, butter beans, and pintos the way she did. Hope it helps.
posted by aerobenny at 12:20 PM on April 17, 2006

I've read that letting beans soak in too much water can "blast" the skin off beans. Never tested it, though.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:23 PM on April 17, 2006

I've never soaked black beans, which is one of the reasons I cook with them. No soaking (just rinsing in cold water), and they cook in about 90 minutes.

Are you able to ask your mom what she does (moms always seem to have special techniques)? Is there a local culinary school you could contact? The school would know if your problem is caused by the local water.

Have you tried a pressure cooker? Water boils at a lower temperature the higher the elevation. My mother in law, who lives in Bolivia, has to use a pressure cooker to cook beans and pasta because boiling water there is about 180 degrees F and just isn't hot enough to cook these items.
posted by luneray at 2:42 PM on April 17, 2006

Ground water is usually hard (alkaline). Try adding a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice to the soak water.
posted by flabdablet at 4:05 PM on April 17, 2006

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