Test Kitchen tips: Cleaning and soaking beans

White beans.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Whether you purchase your dried beans in a bag or loose out of a bin, always be sure to check them over and clean them before using.

You can sometimes find stones or debris with dried beans, and a quick sort can save you from the trauma of a cracked tooth. A quick rinse in a bowl of water can also sort out good beans from bad or stale -- bad beans typically will float and should be tossed out.

As for soaking, Food editor Russ Parsons says it’s almost never necessary with beans:

“Most of the time, I don’t soak my beans before cooking them.

“I learned this many years ago. Ironically, I was looking for a shortcut for soaking, because as much as I love beans, I can never seem to think ahead enough to start preparing them the night before. So I investigated various quick-soaks and even tried soaking a big batch of beans and then freezing it.

Ultimately, “Soaking dried beans does nothing for flavor or digestibility. The one thing it does is cut down on the cooking time, but just how much depends on how old and dried out the beans are.”


For more bean science, check out Russ’ story on beans.


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White beans with chorizo, clams and shrimp

Total time: 1 hour, plus 2 hours baking time for the beans

Servings: 6 to 8 servings

Note: Spanish chorizo can be found at Spanish markets as well as at select gourmet markets and cooking supply stores.

White beans

1/4 pound Spanish chorizo, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 pound dried white beans, such as cannellini or Great Northern

7 cups water

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the chorizo in olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat on the stove top until the chorizo has rendered some fat and begun to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper and cook until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the dried beans, water and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cover tightly and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Add the salt, stir, and continue cooking, covered, until the beans are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. The beans should be like a thin stew; if necessary, add more water, one-quarter cup at a time. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Season to taste with more salt if necessary, and freshly ground black pepper. (The dish can be prepared up to this point a day ahead and refrigerated, tightly covered.)

Clams and shrimp and assembly

White beans

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, chopped

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 1/4 cups crushed tomatoes

1 pound large peeled and deveined shrimp, cut into bite-size pieces

2 pounds Manila clams

Salt to taste

Chopped pickled green peppers, such as pepperoncini, for garnish

Chopped parsley, if desired, for garnish

1. Reheat the beans, if necessary.

2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet that has a tight-fitting lid. Add the garlic and parsley and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the white wine and reduce to a thin syrup, about 3 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and cook until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the shrimp and clams, cover tightly and raise the heat to high. Cook, frequently giving the pan a vigorous shake (holding the lid on firmly), until the clams have opened, about 5 minutes.

4. Gently stir the clams and shrimp into the warmed beans and heat through. Season to taste with more salt, if necessary. This makes about 12 cups of stew. Ladle the stew into shallow soup or pasta bowls and sprinkle each with about 2 teaspoons of the chopped pickled peppers and the parsley if using. Serve immediately.

Each of 8 servings: 415 calories; 30 grams protein; 42 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams fiber; 14 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 95 mg cholesterol; 2 grams sugar; 870 mg sodium.