Pressure cookers are great for making all sorts of delicious meals, from risotto to stews, curries, braises, soups, and even beyond to desserts like cheesecake. But what really keeps the pressure cooker in full rotation in my kitchen is its workhorse function: nothing can beat it for quickly cooking grains, rice, stocks, and beans. Today we'll look at how you can cook a pound of beans in the pressure cooker in significantly less than an hour.
The exact cooking time will depend on what kind of bean and what kind of pressure cooker you have, but you can rest assured that you can cook a pot of tender, creamy beans an hour or less. For the chickpeas shown above, it took my pressure cooker 15 minutes to reach full pressure, then 10 minutes at full pressure to cook the beans, followed by a 20 minute natural release cool down — a total of roughly 45 minutes to achieve tender beans. Note: I did presoak the beans, which helped cut their cooking time significantly.
Let's take a closer look at the various components for pressure cooking beans.
Beans are the quintessential cheap, nutritious food. You can often pick up a pound of beans for a dollar or two, which, depending on the variety, will produce about 5 to 6 cups of beans (or about 3 to 4 cans worth). Even if you pay more for premium quality beans, you will still be saving money, as well as packaging, when you cook them in the pressure cooker. But just as important, they will taste better than their canned versions and you can even customize the aromatics you add to the pot (onions, bay leaf, garlic, etc.) to suit your tastes.
One thing to note is that while dried beans are a staple, they do get old if left to sit around too long. If you've ever made a batch of beans that does not want to soften properly no matter how long you cook them, it is probably because they're too old. Try to purchase your beans from a reputable source that has a lot of turnover in order to avoid old beans.
What about fancy heirloom beans like those from Rancho Gordo? Are they worth it? The answer to that depends on your personal taste and pocketbook. I really like Rancho Gordo beans and will often splurge for a packet or two, especially because they offer unusual beans that are hard to find anywhere else. I have found them to be consistently fresh and delicious and (lucky me!) they're a local product. But I've had wonderful results with ordinary beans, too, and since economy is one of the reasons for pressure cooking beans, I am happy to use them as well.
The Pressure Cooker
To do a whole pound of beans, you will need a large-sized 6- to 8-quart pressure cooker. This is because pressure cookers have strict limits on how little and how much they need to be filled in order to work properly — smaller pressure cookers can't be used to cook a whole pound of beans.
I used an 8-quart Fissler Vitaquick pressure cooker to test my bean experiments and found it to be a joy to work with. Yes, it's big and heavy, but the truth is, I want my pressure to be substantial! I worked with its bulk and weight by always leaving it in place on the stove — carrying the water to the pot, leaving it on the stove to cool down (with the flame off, of course), leaving it there while I ladled the beans and broth into my jars. This way, I never had to carry a heavy, hot pot filled with liquid.
Is Presoaking Necessary?
When they're cooked the usual way on the stove top, the greatest drawback with dried beans is the fact that they need to be soaked before cooking, sometimes up to 12 hours. So unless you've planned ahead, dried beans aren't a spontaneous ingredient. There is a quick-soaking method where the beans and water are brought to a boil and then left to soak for an hour or so (as opposed to overnight). This helps to cut the cooking time down considerably, but we're still talking a couple of hours before you have a pot of edible beans. This is where the pressure cooker shines: without presoaking, a pound of dried beans can be done in anywhere from 6 to 40 minutes, depending on the variety. Pretty great!
Is there a catch? Well, a small one. Presoaked beans will (mostly) stay intact when they are pressure cooked, while unsoaked beans tend to split open some. While the quick-soaking method helps somewhat to alleviate the splitting, if you want whole, tender beans then your best bet is to presoak. You can use the quick-soak and unsoaked beans for those times when the splitting isn't such a big deal, like when you're making hummus or in soups.
Another advantage to presoaking beans is that most of the gas-causing sugars are leached out into the soaking water. So when you drain off the soaking water, you are also saying goodbye to this unpleasant side effect to eating beans!
What About Salt?
For many years, cooks believed that salting dried beans as they cook contributes to their toughness. These days, we know that soaking dried beans in salted water really helps to season them all the way through. So presoaking beans in a salt brine and cooking them with salt is no longer verboten.
I usually presoak my beans overnight to be cooked the next morning as 8 hours in usually enough soaking time. (You can also start them soaking just before you leave for work.) For one pound of beans, I dissolve 2 tablespoons of salt into 6 cups of water in a bowl, add the beans, cover and leave the beans on my counter. The next day, I drain them and then add them to the pot along with fresh water, more salt, and some aromatics.
What About the Aromatics?
I like to add a few basic aromatics to the water when cooking beans. A little onion, a clove or two of garlic, and a bay leaf are my usual add-ins. They add a subtle seasoning to the beans and boost up the flavor of the cooking liquid. You can add any aromatics to suit your palate or recipe, but just remember to keep it subtle: pressure cooking will really emphasize the flavors, so keep strong flavored additions to a minimum. Keep the aromatics whole as the flavor of finely chopped ingredients will just get lost in the pressure cooking process. Avoid fresh herbs like parsley or basil as their flavor will not stand up well either.
And speaking of the broth: it has lots of flavor and nutrients so don't throw it away! If you're not using it for your recipe, freeze it to add to soups later on.
It's a good idea to add 1 tablespoon of neutral oil to the pot. Beans are notorious for producing foam which can clog the pressure valve, and the oil will help to keep that down.
High or Low?
Most pressure cookers have a high and a low pressure setting. The high setting is usually 15 psi (or pounds per square inch) and the low is at 5 psi. You should consult your pressure cooker's manual to determine the manufacturer's psi for high and low pressure for your particular make and model. In general, beans can handle the high setting.
The Release Method
There are two ways to depressurize your pot of beans once the cooking time is done. You can just let it sit and cool down, usually called the slow or natural release. Or you can use the quick release method which means you depressurize manually, usually by pressing a valve on the cooker (consult your manual) or by running cold water over the cover for several minutes. Most pressure cooker experts agree: letting the beans depressurize naturally is the way to go if you want whole, un-split beans.
A Few Good Charts
Because beans cook at different rates depending on variety, age, and whether or not they've been presoaked, quick-soaked or not soaked at all, there is no single timeframe for pressure cooking beans. Having a good chart with all the variables to consult is necessary so that you can adjust to your circumstances. I like to use Hip Pressure Cooking's bean chart, which breaks down by variety, presoaked or unsoaked, pressure, and release method. Lorna Sass' excellent pressure cooker books are another good source (she's a fan of cooking beans unsoaked, so all her charts reflect this).
I also recommend creating your own chart by recording the results of your efforts in a notebook. Since there are some variables that published charts can't account for, such as age of the beans, your stove's performance, and your pressure cooker's performance, it's good to track your personal experience.
What If They're Not Done?
One of the issues some cooks have with pressure cookers is not being able to check the food as its cooking. This can be a little unnerving — what's going on under that very well-sealed lid? Obviously, you have to wait and trust, and occasionally, you will open the lid after depressurizing only to find the beans aren't as tender as you would wish. You can simply turn the heat back on and cook them in the regular way, with the lid off of the pot, until they reach your desired tenderness. Or, if they're really off the mark, you can secure the lid and bring them back up to pressure for another 3 to 5 minutes. (Check the liquid levels first and add a little more water if needed.)
What If They're Overdone?
I'll admit that I tend to err on the shorter cooking times when making beans because I have a fear of over cooking them to a messy sludge. (This has never happened but I worry about it anyway!) Obviously, there is nothing you can do if your beans are overcooked but start again with a fresh batch or have hummus for dinner. Be sure to make a note of what happened so you can adjust your timing the next time.
If you aren't using your beans right away, then you can refrigerate them for a few days. One of the pleasures of pressure cooing beans, though, is to stock your freezer with several can's worth of deliciously cooked beans. To do this, let the beans cool first, then measure out 1 1/2 cups of just the beans into a 2 cup freezer container. (1 1/2 cups is roughly equivalent to a 16-ounce can, which is how most recipes will call for beans.) I prefer glass jars but many people like plastic containers or freezer bags. Add enough liquid to cover, leaving about 1 inch of head space for expansion, and seal. Be sure to label your containers with the contents and date! Freeze for up to one year.
If you have extra broth, don't throw it away. Just one taste will tell you that this broth is delicious, so be sure to save it to add to soups and stews. Sometimes I just sip it on it's own, which I am doing right now as a write up this post!
How To Cook Any Bean in a Pressure Cooker
Makes 5 to 6 cups of beans, plus broth
What You Need
1 pound dried beans
2 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 yellow onion, left whole
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon oil
Measuring cups and spoons
Colander or sieve
6- to 8-quart stove top pressure cooker (see Recipe Note)
Jars or other containers for storage
- Presoak the Beans: 6 to 8 hours before you cook the beans, dissolve 2 tablespoons of salt into 6 cups of water. Add the beans (you may want to rinse them first to remove any residual dust and dirt) and cover with a plate or a towel.
- Drain the Beans: When the beans are done soaking, drain them in a colander or sieve. Place the pressure cooker on the stove and add the drained beans.
- Add the Aromatics: Add 8 cups of water, 1 teaspoon of salt, onion, garlic, bay leaf and oil to the pot.
- Cook the Beans: Secure the lid according to instruction manual and turn the flame up to high. Keep an eye on the pot and when it reaches high pressure, reduce the flame to medium/medium low and start timing the beans. (See Recipe Note regarding electric pressure cookers.)
- Natural Release: When the time is up, turn off the heat. Allow the pot to cool down and release pressure naturally. Follow your instruction manual to determine how you will know when the pot is ready to be opened.
- Remove the Lid: Unlock and remove the lid, tilting the lid away from you and allowing any condensation to drip back into the pot. Using a slotted spoon, fish out and discard the onion, garlic and bay leaf.
- Use or Store: Your beans are now ready to use. If you want to store them, measure out 1 1/2 cups of beans into 2-cup storage containers. Add liquid to cover, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Seal and store in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days or in the freezer for up to one year. Be sure to label the jars with date and contents.
(Images: Dana Velden)