BIG BEAN EPIPHANY

Last week I wrote about how beans cooked in salted water or broth will never soften but now, thanks to America's Test Kitchen I'm singing a slightly different tune!On a recent show on America's Test Kitchen I was shocked to learn that they marinate the beans in salted water.

Instead of simmering them on the cook top, they bake them in the oven and claim that the skin is more tender, the beans stay whole and yet are exceptionally creamy inside. Somewhat skeptically, I tried it and to my delight found that it really works! As I thought about it I realized that soaking the beans in the room temperature salt water would have a different effect from heating them in salt water, which causes the outer skin to harden, and prevent water absorption. Apparently the room temperature salt water serves to help the beans absorb water the way marinating poultry or seafood does. It is important that the water not be over-salted as too much salt which affect the osmotic process and draw moisture away from the beans.

I suspect that simmering the beans on the stove top will keep them whole as long as they are at a low simmer. This is the way I've been doing it for years and I also cover the pan which I find produces more creaminess but in the oven this is unnecessary.

Here's the basic technique: 

227 grams/8 ounces/1 cup cannelini or other beans
28 grams/1 ounce/1 ½ tablespoons salt
2 quarts cold water

Dissolve the salt in the water and soak the beans at room temp for 8 to 24 hours.

Drain and rinse well. Add water to come to about two inches above the beans.

Heat the oven to 250°F/121˚C Bring the beans to a simmer, set them in the oven, and cook 45 minutes to 1 hour until tender.