Pressure Cooker Beans (Basic Technique)

Here’s another killer application for my pressure cooker.  Dried beans, cooked in under an hour.

I do something that will sound a little weird. I use my pressure cooker to make dried beans…and then freeze them. I know, I know. You would think a pressure cooker would be best for making beans just before you use them. And it is – fresh made pressure cooker beans are much better than beans that come out of a can. But so are dried beans that are pressure cooked, then frozen. The cooking liquid from homemade beans has a lot of flavor in it, and it tastes good even when frozen. The liquid in canned beans? It’s not good; throw it away.
*Lorna Sass taught me this trick, in her The Pressured Cook cookbook – she sings the praises of make ahead beans, and I’m passing the word along. Lorna knows what she’s talking about.
**I freeze my beans in two cup containers; that way, they replace the 1.5 cups of beans you get in a “regular sized” can of beans. Two cups of beans will thaw in five minutes in my microwave. See? They’re as easy as canned beans, and taste better, too!

When I’m pressure cooking dried beans, I always make at least one pound of beans, and I usually make two pounds. It doesn’t take any longer, and it gives me more beans for the future. I usually plan a meal around the beans, cook them up in the PC, then scoop out the beans I need for tonight’s dinner. After dinner, when I’m cleaning up, I freeze the rest in their cooking liquid for use later on.
*One of the reasons I love my Fagor 10 quart pressure cooker is that it can fit two pounds of beans, plus the water to cook them. If I only had a six quart cooker, it would be too small to fit two pounds of beans.

In general, I don’t soak my beans before cooking them. I am not organized enough to sort and soak the beans the night before. It should be easy, and it cuts the cooking time in half…but if I’m that far ahead of the game, I wind up slow cooking my beans.
*I tried the recent Cooks Illustrated suggestion of brining beans as part of their pre-soaking. It worked well. But, I’ve only used it once, with cannelini beans. I keep meaning to try it again…but that requires a level of organization that I just can’t seem to manage.

Basic Technique: Pressure Cooker Beans

Cook time: 60 minutes

Equipment:

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound beans, sorted (any dirt and bad beans removed) and rinsed
  • 7 cups water
  • 1 small onion or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled (optional, but adds some flavor)
  • 1 bay leaf (again, optional, but adds some flavor)

Directions:
Make sure you’ve read the manual for your pressure cooker before starting – you need to know how to lock and unlock the pressure cooker, and how to tell when it’s come up to high pressure.
1. Sort, rinse, and cook the beans: Sort the beans, removing any stones or dirt clods you find. (I like to do this on a half sheet pan – I pour the beans on one side of the pan, and brush them a little bit at a time to the other side, removing anything that looks odd while I’m doing it.) Rinse the beans, then put them in the pressure cooker. Add the water, onion and/or garlic, and bay leaf. Bring the cooker up to high pressure, then pressure cook for the time listed in the chart below. Once you’ve reached the cooking time, turn off the heat, and let the pressure come down naturally.*  Check a couple of beans for doneness, then use the beans (and their liquid). Save the beans for later by refrigerating (for up to a week) or freezing (for up to six months, or longer.)
*Optionally, cook for five extra minutes, then quick release the pressure.

Bean typeStovetop PC Time
(at High Pressure, with natural pressure release)
Electric PC Time
(at High Pressure, with natural pressure release)
Black, Navy, Pinto30 minutes35 minutes
Red kidney, Great northern, Cannellini35 minutes40 minutes
Chickpeas40 minutes45 minutes

Notes:
*Sometimes, even after the pressure cooking times listed above, I wind up with tough beans. I seem get different results depending on the age of the beans. When I buy beans from Mustard Seed Market, my local health food store, I don’t have problems. They sell a lot of beans, and have good turnover of their stock, so the beans are always fresh. When I get them from my local grocery store, sometimes they take a little longer to cook. I’m assuming this is because they’re older and a little more dried out.
Beans are one of the things where I try to splurge on the organic version; they don’t cost that much more, and the results are much better.

When I open the cooker, I try a couple of the beans. If they’re still tough, I do one of two things. If the beans are close to done, I simmer them (without locking the pressure cooker lid) for another five to ten minutes. If the beans are a little tough, I lock the lid on, bring the pot back up to pressure, and cook under pressure for another 5 minutes. Then I quick release the pressure and check them again. That usually does it, but once or twice I’ve had to repeat that process – lock the lid and bring it up to pressure for another five minutes. If you’re really worried about it, I’d just start by adding an extra five minutes on to the cooking time above. The worst that will happen is you’ll have very soft beans…which I kind of like.

*Remember, the cooking time starts once the beans are at high pressure.  To get to high pressure, the water has to come to a boil and build up that pressure in the cooker.  This will add another 5 to 10 minutes on the front end of the cooking time.  Make sure to take that extra time into account if you are cutting it close for serving dinner.  I assume it will take about an hour, total, between bringing the cooker up to pressure, cooking, and letting the natural pressure release happen.

Related Posts:
Pressure Cooker Chickpeas
Pressure Cooker Hummus
Click here for my other pressure cooker recipes.

Adapted from:
Lorna Sass’s various pressure cooking cookbooks. For beans, I like Lorna’s Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure. It has a handy chart inside the cover with timings for all different types of beans, soaked and unsoaked.

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12 Comments

  1. Hi, Mike
    Have you tried any other flavoring for black beans – assuming you’d be using them for SW cuisine?

    Dave

  2. @dpg:

    Yes, I have tried a few other flavorings for southwestern types of beans. Usually I add a whole dried pepper, like an ancho or a poblano into the pot. I just rinse it off first and throw it in, stem and all, then fish it out when I’m done cooking. I’ve also added a small bundle of cilantro stems tied together.

    And, of course, Rick Bayless always recommends the herb epazote in beans. But he also says you should use fresh epazote, and I can’t seem to find fresh epazote in my area.

  3. Made a batch of great northern beans this morning with the bay leaf, onion, garlic, and also some left over smoked spare rib (the part left over after trimming to St. Louis Rib cuts). I did soak the 1 lb of beans in a quart of brine water over night, and adjusted the amount of water during the pressure cook to 4 cups instead of 7 cups. Delicious! Thanks again for the inspiration and basic technique!

  4. Mmmm…smoked pork and beans…delicious….

  5. brined & cooked the black beans the next morning,don’t think I’ll buy canned again.so much better & cheaper!!! thANKS. LOVE ALL YOUR tips & recipes!!!

  6. You’re welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed them!

  7. Howard Marshall Korschun /

    Use a Fagor 8 qt duo. Do you start timing when the indicator pops up, or do you wait until there is a stream of steam? Indicator seems to pop up before noticeable steam.

    Thanks for great website.

    • Wait for steam. Pop up indicator means starting to come to pressure, not high pressure. Thin stream of steam means high pressure.

      • Howard Marshall+Korschun /

        Thank you! Cooking your chicken broth with shredded chicken right now. Would you ever pressure cook only enough to cook chicken, remove chicken from pot, then, once it cooled, remove the meat from the bones, then return bones and skin to pot for further cooking? That’s what I do, based on a Fannie Farmer recipe, for making chicken broth without using the pressure cooker. I’m not good at saving bones, and I like having the poached chicken. If i wanted to do that, is their a “rule of thumb” for adapting regular recipe times to pressure cooker times?

        • Rule of thumb is 1/3 of the time – then play with the timings to get the results you want. And, yes, you can return the bones to the pot – give them another 30 minutes under pressure.

    • Favor starts timing when the stream of steam appears. (The pop-up is “some pressure”, not “high pressure”)

  8. Jackie /

    I soak 1/2 lb. of beans, drain, rinse and then freeze them. They are ready for any recipe calling for soaked beans. Right now I have a variety of beans frozen this way. It really makes it easy. I’ve tried the ‘quick soak’ method many times with different beans (bringing the beans to a boil and then soak for an hour), but it never really worked well for me. Now I soak them a long time, at least 12 hours. I live in Denver and I find longer soaking and ‘better’ water help them cook. I use the filtered water I drink, not my hard tap water. I guess everyone has their own way.

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