Soaking—A lot of energy is spent wondering if beans really need to be soaked. I find it useful to remember that beans are a dried food, that soaking is simply re-hydrating them. However, I found that you can get very decent beans without soaking them. But if you're going for the most plump, evenly cooked beans, then yeah, soaking helps.
Quick soaking—Give me a break! Quick soaking is where you boil beans hard for a minute or two, take the pan off the heat, cover it, let it sit for an hour, then drain the beans and call them soaked.
Now yes, in one sense it is quick-an overnight soak is accomplished in one hour. But come on, unsoaked beans only take an extra 30 minutes or so. So in another, very real sense, there's nothing quick about quick-soaking.
Soaking revisited, how long to soak—A useful factoid is that beans will only take up so much water and that's it. They don't continue to absorb water like an insatiable sponge. When beans are soaked, they're soaked. Longer isn't better. The fact is that most beans are done drinking up water after 4 to 8 hours. (Beans will take up warm water faster than cold water.)
However, there is nothing wrong with soaking beans overnight if that's convenient. But throwing beans in a bowl of water at breakfast works just as well.
How can you tell if beans are fully re-hydrated?—You can judge by their skins. At first their skins will be wrinkly, then the beans gradually swell up and their skins become smooth again. At that point they're soaked. But if you want to be compulsive, then cut a bean open. If the bean is undersoaked, you'll notice the core is chalky, like a kernel of rice was in the center. If the bean is fully soaked, it has an even color all the way through.
Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.
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