Beans are an inexpensive ingredient, but often need soaking and boiling. Throw them in the slow cooker in the morning and by the time you get home they’ll be ready to eat.
We’ve covered how to quick soak beans to shorten cooking time but you can put them in the slow cooker in the morning and have beans ready by the time you get home. Soaking the beans the night before reduces gas, but it’s optional for most beans.
This is my primary way of cooking beans in the summer so I don’t have to use a stove. In the winter, I use a pressure cooker. Either method isn’t much harder than opening up a can of beans, but is much cheaper.
One of the best ways to guarantee perfectly cooked beans — ones that emerge creamy and tender instead of crunchy or mushy — is cooking them ever-so gently over low, steady heat. Hmm… low and steady heat, you say? Sounds to me like a job for the slow cooker.
For small batches of beans, a pound or less, I think 3 1/2-quart or smaller slow cooker does the best job. When I use my big 7-quart slow cooker, I usually cook 2 pounds or more and freeze what I don’t use right away. Beans freeze beautifully! I freeze them in 2-cup portions, which makes it easy to pull out just what I need for a recipe.
With beans made in the slow cooker, pre-soaking them is far less important than with other cooking methods. The long cooking time means that those beans will definitely soften! However, I am a believer that soaking the beans removes some of the enzymes that causes intestinal discomfort, so I usually stick to the practice of soaking them overnight. If you’re not as bothered after eating beans, then you can certainly skip this step.
Add any aromatics, like bay leaves or garlic, at the beginning of cooking. Their flavors will gently infuse the beans and their cooking liquid over the long cooking time. I also add a teaspoon of salt at the beginning of cooking — a controversial tactic, I know! This is a trick that I picked up from Cook’s Illustrated: a little salt added at the beginning of cooking actually helps keep the beans intact and prevents “blow out” beans. I’ve tried this for several batches of beans now and have now adopted it as regular practice.
The first time or two that you cook beans in the slow cooker, it’s best if you can be around to check on them toward the end of cooking. Some slow cookers — and some beans! — will cook more quickly or slowly than others. Until you’re familiar with how long beans typically take in your slow cooker, start checking them around 5 hours and then every half hour or so after that until they’re done.
(via the kitchn)