Basic Cooking Techniques for a simple pot of beans from Rancho Gordo:
There isn’t one single best method of cooking beans. When you’re in a hurry, you may want to use a pressure cooker. On a leisurely, rainy Sunday, you might want to put a clay pot full of beans in the fireplace. At the most basic, you want to simmer the pot until the beans are soft. Soaking can speed up with process, and vegetables or broth will make the means more flavorful. It’s really that simple.
Soaking the Beans: Most beans benefit from soaking for 2-6 hours before cooking, though it is not essential to the outcome of your beans. Before cooking, rinse the beans with lots of cool water and check them for debris. Cover the beans with about 1 inch of cold water and let sit (or start cooking if you’re not enthused by soaking).
Flavoring the Beans: Heirloom varieties don’t need a lot of fussing if they’re used fresh (which RG defines as within 2 yrs of harvesting). You can cook them with a ham bone or chicken broth, or simply with a few savory vegetables like onions and garlic. A simple classic mirepoix, a mix of finely diced onion, celery, and carrot, sautéed in some sort of fat, often olive oil, is one of our favorite ways to flavor beans. Keep in mind that salt, acids and sugars can negatively affect the beans as they cook, so don’t add these flavorings until after the beans are soft.
Cooking the Beans: Pour the beans and their soaking water into a large pot, making sure they are covered by about an inch of liquid. If you haven’t cooked the mirepoix in the pot you’re using, add it now. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a hard boil. Keep the beans at a boil for about 5 minutes and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Allow the beans to cook which can take anywhere from 1 hour to 3-4 hours. When the beans are almost ready, the aroma will be rich and heady. They wont smell like the vegetables or herbs you’ve cooked them with, rather like the beans themselves At this point, add salt. Go easy as it takes a while for the beans to absorb the salt. 2 tsp of salt per 1 lb of beans is a good place to start. If you want to add tomatoes or another acidic ingredient like lime or vinegar, wait until the beans are cooked through. If the liquid in the pot starts to get low, you can just add more water.