"Do beans really need slow cooking?" I asked myself upon reading Tanis' unequivocal statement. I tried to recall what I knew about beans. Not much. What about slow simmering? You have to simmer meat at relatively low temperatures to keep it moist and tender, but that's because meat cells lose liquid at high temperatures. Meat stocks are also simmered slowly, to avoid emulsifying fat into the liquid end product. But surely bean cells are different than meat cells, and for bean soup the fat is probably a non-issue for various reasons. I've never ended up with tough and dry beans; I've always boiled them and gotten satisfactory results.
I probably should have turned to Harold McGee for resolution, but instead I googled and turned up this article by Chef Kelly Myers.
- Slow cooking "breaks down gas-causing carbohydrates into digestible sugars."
- "Boiling will eventually blow apart your black-eyed peas, flageolets, and cranberry beans."
- Boiling might lead to unevenly cooked beans.
- Simmering leads to "creamy and luxurious beans," though why is seemingly left to the reader to wonder at.
- use the 'stock' left over from simmering beans to add body to vegetable soups.
- add fat (for flavor) to the beans after skimming the foam (which is a protein that comes in with the beans). This might mean sweating/sauteing your aromatics/herbs/spices/meat/whatnot in another pan, then dumping it all into the beans post-skim.
- Acid, sugar, and calcium allow beans to cook for hours and reheat without disintegrating. So ingredients like molasses ( somewhat acidic, contains sugar and calcium) and tomatoes (acidic) preserve structure in slow cooking. Viz. baked beans.