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I have a recipe for rehydrating red beans that says you should boil them briefly (2 min) then soak them overnight (6-8 hrs) to rehydrate them so that the skins aren't hard.

Is this advisable? Is there a better option? Does it make any difference?

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Does the recipe actually say the skins would be hard? Soaking beans (including the quick soak method you describe) is more about getting the inside of the beans soft, and reducing the subsequent cooking time. –  Jefromi Jan 22 '12 at 17:04
    
Red beans or black beans? Title/content are different. (maybe it doesn't matter) –  DHall Jan 23 '12 at 19:22
    
@Dhall -Good eye. Yes, I'm asking about BLACK beans, but the recipe is talking about RED beans. I figured "a bean is a bean" <g>, but that's one reason I asked. –  Clay Nichols Jan 24 '12 at 20:23

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you soak your beans in brine (3tbsp table salt per gallon of water, or 1.5% salt by weight) it'll help soften the skins by replacing calcium and magnesium ions in the skin. After soaking for 8–24 hours, drain and rinse. (Source: Cooks Illustrated, login required). Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking also mentions this (p. 488–489) and suggests 1% salt by weight. McGee also mentions that 0.5% baking soda will further reduce cooking times (but may lead to unpleasant taste & mouth feel).

Alternatively, Cook's Illustrated also reports that dried kombu can be used to similar effect, without needing the soak.

Even after brining, taste them when nearly done cooking: you may need to add some salt—it doesn't always penetrate that far into the beans. At least, that's been my experience.

Quick summary:

  1. Create 1–1.5% salt (by weight) brine, approx 3tbsp table salt per gallon of water.
  2. Sort (remove rocks, deformed and damaged beans, etc.) and rinse dried beans. Drain rinse water.
  3. Soak rinsed beans in brine for 8–24 hours. Beans will noticeably swell.
  4. Drain brine, rinse beans again.
  5. Cook beans normally. Towards the end of cooking, season to taste.

You want to season towards the end of the cooking because it results in creamier texture and also eating some beans which haven't been heated to boiling for 10 minutes is ill-advised due to phytohaemagglutinin.

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Can't wait to try this one, thank you! –  m.bagattini Jan 24 '12 at 15:51
    
So you're saying that you put the salt in before you begin yoru 8-24h soak, right? I love Am. Test Kitchen (the show Cooks Illustrated is associated with) and have found their product advice exceptional and cost effective. So I'll give this a try. –  Clay Nichols Jan 24 '12 at 20:24
    
@ClayNichols: Yes, you mix the salt and water (to form a brine) and then soak the dry beans in that. Definitely advisable to mix salt and water first, it takes some stirring to get it to dissolve. (After the soak is done, drain and rinse, then add plain water, and cook) –  derobert Jan 24 '12 at 21:07

What you seem to be describing is the "quick soak" method, which does work fine, but in my experience, the beans are more likely to fall apart than they will with a long, cold soak.

My current preferred method is to sort and rinse a pound of dry beans, and then add them and 6-8 cups of water to a slow cooker set to low and let them cook all day. Though this does work best for things like chili and red beans & rice (basically situations where I don't care if the beans are falling apart by the time I'm eating them.

If I cared more about the beans' appearance, I would do an overnight soak in cold water, and then transfer them to my cooking vessel to cook until they're just tender, with no al dente beans in a few test spoonfuls.

I have never had a problem with bean skins being hard with any method.

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