I think that a warm pot of beans whenever you want them is at least half the reason for owning a pressure cooker.
Forget pre-soaking. Forget hours of gentle simmering.
With a pressure cooker, you can go from opening a bag of dried legumes to plump, tender beans in under an hour. How’s that for a sales pitch?!
WHICH PRESSURE COOKER TO USE
You’ll need a 6- to 8-quart pressure cooker to make a batch of beans. I use a 6-quart Instant Pot, but you can follow this basic method for other electric pressure cookers and stovetop pressure cookers as well.
HOW MANY POUNDS OF BEANS
I normally cook a pound of beans at a time in the pressure cooker. This makes about five cups of cooked beans, which is plenty to make several meals throughout the week. I also often freeze half of the batch for future meals if I don’t think I’ll use them up during the week.
NO NEED TO SOAK (REALLY!)
And no, I don’t soak my beans ahead of time. I admit that my first forays into no-soak beans were entirely due to a lack of pre-planning on my part. (I so rarely manage to coordinate my desire and my readiness when it comes to beans.)
But then I found that I didn’t really need to. The beans cooked up just fine without the overnight soak. They are evenly cooked, tender and creamy, and well suited for everything from tacos to quick bean soup!
THE FINE PRINT: WHY YOU MIGHT STILL WANT TO SOAK
This said, you do make a few concessions when you skip the soak. The biggest one is the beans’ appearance: You tend to get more split skins and “blow-out” beans (the ones that burst like popcorn) when they’re not pre-soaked.
For my everyday cooking, I’m fine with beans that are a bit rough around the edges. If you’re preparing a bean dish for your in-laws or the Pope, however, you might want to plan ahead and set aside the time for a long, careful soak.
Secondly, some people feel that soaking their beans helps makes them easier to digest (though others disagree). Personally, I haven’t noticed a huge difference with my own digestion between soaked or un-soaked beans, but if you find soaking helpful in this regard, then by all means carry on.
If you’d like to soak your beans (and you’re better at pre-planning your bean cookery than I am), then go for it! The pressure cooking time is generally about half the time as unsoaked.
NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE OR QUICK RELEASE?
One last point to discuss: the pressure release. I think it’s worth it to let your pressure cooker release naturally, or at least for as long as possible before you open the pot. This helps offset some of the appearance problems, resulting in fewer blow-out beans — though you’ll still get some.
I usually let the pot release pressure naturally until the point when I need the beans, then I hit the pressure valve to release it the rest of the way.
WHAT IF MY BEANS ARE STILL HARD?
Occasionally, you might open your pressure cooker and find that you’re beans are still a little crunchy or not cooked quite as much as you like. This is fine! The cooking times I give in the recipe are just general guidelines, but know that there can be quite a lot of variability in the beans themselves. Your beans might take a little longer to cook than expected depending on their age, their type, or even the type of water you use (if your water has a lot of calcium, for instance, this can increase cooking time).
If your beans aren’t quite done, here’s what to do: Put the lid back on the pressure cooker and make sure the release valve is set back to “sealing.” Cook at high pressure for another 5 to 10 minutes (depending on if you think your beans need just a little more time or a little more time to finish). The pot will quickly come back up to pressure because the contents are already hot. Check your beans after the extra cooking time and continue cooking for longer if needed.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
- Add a tablespoon of oil: This helps reduce foaming as the beans cook, which can sometimes clog up the pressure valve and interfere with cooking.
- Add a teaspoon or two of salt: This is your only opportunity to season the beans on the inside, so be sure to add some salt to the pot. Start with one teaspoon with your first batch and see how you like the flavor. I usually add two teaspoons to my beans.
- Add flavoring ingredients! Flavorful add-ins like garlic, onions, and bay leaves make beans even tastier. Add them at the start of cooking along with the oil and salt.
- Always use enough liquid to cover your beans by a few inches: Beans absorb a lot of liquid during cooking. For one pound of beans, eight cups of water is usually plenty. You can experiment with reducing the amount of liquid, if you like, but be careful of reducing it too much or your beans won’t cook properly.
- Don’t fill the pot more than halfway full with liquid: This is a precaution against overflow due to foaming during cooking.
- Adjust the cooking time as needed: Think of the cooking times I give below as a starting point, then adjust the time in subsequent batches to suit your particular taste. Try the lower end of the time range if you want firm beans for things like salads and tacos, or cook for more time if you want softer beans for things like hummus, refried beans, or soup.
- Also, consult the manual that came with your pressure cooker. The times I give below are based on my testing with an Instant Pot (which I found to be consistent with the cooking times recommended in the Instant Pot manual); cooking times may be slightly different for your particular model.
- Using beans in a recipe: One 15-ounce can of beans holds about 1 3/4 cups cooked beans, so substitute accordingly in your recipes. For reference, one pound of dried beans makes about five cups of cooked beans.