Cooking a bean is simple. But in simplicity lies sophistication. Getting a perfect, creamy, tender bean is not as easy as one might think. It requires time, attention and a number of factors.
Firstly, find the best beans you can. Either quality dried beans or fresh shelling beans when in season. For dried beans look for whole, not broken beans. Rancho Gordo and Elegant Beans are both excellent sellers and producers of quality heirloom beans.
It is very important to soak your beans in an appropriate amount of water overnight. Keep in mind that the beans will expand by about 2-3 times depending on the bean, so cover them with at least 4-5 inches of water.
The next key is have a very flavorful bean liquor, or liquid. I like to cook my beans in a rich chicken stock or mushroom broth. Make your stock at least a day ahead of time so that it has time to cool. That being said, always start beans in COLD liquid. This will allow them to come up to temperature with the cooking liquid and cook evenly. To enhance the flavor of the liquid, add whatever vegetables and aromatics you would like. I prefer whole onion, carrot, celery and garlic cloves as well as a bay leaf or two. I also add whole butter and let it melt as the liquid comes up to a simmer.
Once you have your soaked beans and your flavorful bean cooking liquid, you can start to cook the beans. (NEVER SALT UNCOOKED BEANS! Salting beans before cooking will ensure that the beans take 4-5 times longer to cook.) Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F. Cover the soaked beans or fresh beans with the cold cooking liquid by about 2 inches. Bring the beans to a simmer in a heavy bottom pot and cover with the lid. Place the beans in the oven and cook for 45 minutes before you check them. If you are using fresh shelling beans, they will take significantly less time than dried beans so check them after 30 minutes. Taste one of the beans to check for doneness, a correctly cooked bean is creamy and tender but not broken or mushy. It is important to check the beans every 10 minutes after the initial 45 minutes to ensure proper doneness. Once the beans are cooked, remove the vegetables and aromatics and season them. I prefer salt and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste.
Serve alongside any roasted meats, fish or just eat a bowl on its own — they’re that good!