Seeing as how this blog is called Musings of an Author, you probably think today’s title is a metaphor. Nope. I’m actually going to talk about brining beans. Why? Because that’s what’s on my mind.
If you pay any attention at all to food fashions, you’re no doubt aware that brining is all the rage. I’ve watched demonstrations on TV of chefs submerging whole turkeys in huge plastic vats of heavily salted water. My reaction has always been: “Huh-uh, ain’t gonna do that.” Frankly, the logistics overwhelm me. Turkeys are big!
However, I’ve been brining chicken since before it was fashionable to do so. Why? Because that’s what my mother did. Before making fried chicken; she soaked the chicken pieces in a bath of salted water. Since her pan-fired chicken was the best I ever tasted, I’ve followed her lead.
As for beans: She soaked them, but she didn’t brine them. And, frankly, I don’t remember if she salted them while they were cooking. I do remember that she liked to throw a ham bone, a chopped onion, and a couple of bay leaves into the pot … and I do too. As for salt … well …
Now, I know a lot of TV chefs, and quite a few cookbooks, say that salting beans will make them tough. Bah! Humbug! It is true that if you have very hard water with a high mineral content, the water could keep the beans from getting tender. Salt, though, not so much.. In fact, I soak my beans overnight in water that has a couple of tablespoons of salt thrown in. And my beans turn out great every time.
Alright, I must confess here that I used to be one of those people who worried about salting the beans before they were done. Yet, it was my habit to throw in a ham bone if I had one handy, and the salt in the ham bone never seemed to adversely affect the beans. Still, I worried about when to salt the beans because the “experts” had told me I should worry about it. Then, I came across an expert who told me something new.
One day while watching America’s Test Kitchen on PBS I heard Christopher Kimball give a scientific explanation about why it was beneficial to brine beans. I didn’t truly get the science behind it, yet I found it intriguing. I dd an internet search to see if any of the food bloggers were brining their beans. Turns out they were, and were raving about the results.So, I tried it. Now, I wouldn’t think of cooking beans any other way.
For those of you who are thinking about sending me hate mail or leaving a sarcastic comment: I’ll understand if you do, but keep in mind that you should never fear change. Change is good. Trying new things is good. Try brining your beans. What have you got to lose?
Here’s a link to all the information you will need to learn how to brine your beans.
After you’ve brined your beans, you can use the following recipe to make a fabulous pot of beans. My mother preferred small white navy beans, and my daughter prefers pinto beans. My favorite is great northern beans. They come out creamy and tender, and are even better the second day. I make mine in a slow cooker.
Jayne’s Slow-Cooked Beans with Ham
- 1 lb bag or 2 cups great northern beans, soaked (brined) overnight and then rinsed well
- 7 C water (or enough water to cover contents of slow cooker by about 1 inch)
- 2 ham shanks, a ham hock, or a meaty ham bone
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, grated or chopped small
- 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped or pressed
- pepper to taste
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning, Herbs de Provence, or other herbs of your choice
- 1/2-1 chicken bouillon cube, or salt; to taste
Season your crock by rubbing the inside with a tablespoon of olive oil (use a paper towel to do this). Add the veggies, ham bone and beans to the pot. Add the pepper, bay leaves and herbs. Pour water over all. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or more, until beans are tender and broth has thickened. Pull out the bay leaves and throw them away. Remove the ham bone and take off the meat; return the meat to the pot. Taste the beans and broth. If they still need some salt, add 1/2 to 1 bouillon cube, crumbled, or salt to taste. Stir and allow to simmer for thirty more minutes (while you make the corn bread). Serve.
Note: You can cook the beans on high if you’re in a hurry. It should take about 6-7 hours. If you don’t have a slow cooker, put everything in a large heavy dutch oven and cook in the oven at 325-350 degrees for about 2-3 hours.