Ask a crowd of bean lovers to tell you the correct way to cook a pot of beans and you’ll get a different answer from each person. But in the midst of healthy debate over the merits of soaking and when to add salt or acid, there’s one universal truth everyone can get behind: when it comes to beans, clay pots reign supreme.
Unfortunately, not everyone has a traditional clay pot hanging around to use whenever they get a bean craving. If that’s you, Samin Nosrat has a simple tip for tender, delicious beans: just add a little baking soda. Here’s how she explained it in a recent interview with the New Yorker:
I didn’t know this until recently, when I was doing research for something, but there is a reason that beans are often cooked in ceramic pots. It turns out that a lot of ceramic cooking pots are slightly alkaline, and that alkalinity is what makes bean skins tender—that’s why I typically add a pinch of baking soda when I make beans.
I cook and eat a lot of beans, and started adding baking soda to mine immediately after reading the interview. It really works: even a measly 1/8th of a teaspoon added at the beginning of cooking noticeably softens those bean skins, something can take a long time to achieve—especially if yours sat around for a while before cooking.
Depending on how much baking soda you add—and when you add it—you can take the tenderizing power of baking soda even farther. I recently soaked some dry chickpeas overnight with an entire teaspoon of baking soda and a good amount of salt. Before cooking, I drained the soaking water and added another half-teaspoon or so of baking soda to the cooking liquid. They cooked up super tender but also, uh, mostly nude; the skins slipped right off and partially dissolved. We already know this technique is great for hummus, but I bet it would also make for the creamiest refried beans ever. (I used my naked chickpeas in soup, like a total chump.)
Of course, baking soda isn’t a perfect substitution for an actual clay pot, which imparts not only alkalinity but a smokier, earthier flavour than you get from other vessels. But if you’re after a softer bean with an improved texture, a little sprinkle works wonders.