The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
March 21, 2014

Pressure Cooker Beans – Almost As Convenient as Canned but Without the BPA

imageA few months ago, I bought a pressure cooker.  I didn’t think it was a big deal, and I hadn’t planned on blogging about it. I just thought that I would eat legumes more often if cooking them took minutes instead of hours.  (I don’t eat canned beans because all food cans are lined with plastic, which can leach either BPA or some other mystery alternative that could be even worse. )

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Anyway, I’ve been pressure cooking up a storm every weekend… making big pots of beans to eat during the week or to store in the freezer for later.  And I’ve also used the pressure cooker for other things like potatoes and even kale.

I assumed I was the last one to the party… that everyone else in the world already knew that pressure cookers are magic.   That was until I received an email from a reader named Deborah, who seemed to have read my mind!

Dear Beth,

I love your blog. My recent discovery is cooking beans in a PRESSURE COOKER. Yes, really. Pressure cookers are now made much safer than in my grandmother’s time. If I soak them overnight most beans cook in 15-30 minutes. And the pressure cooker uses less energy because it cooks on a low flame.

I am much more likely to cook beans now that I can make a batch while I am preparing the rest of dinner.

And cooked beans freeze well. Just put a batch in a jar (not a plastic bag) and freeze them for another meal.

A pressure cooker is expensive, but well worth the cost. In Switzerland the average home has three pressure cookers!

Please spread the word!

Yes, Deborah, me too! So this is me spreading the word!

Finding the Right Pressure Cooker

There are different kinds of pressure cookers.   The most common type seem to be made of aluminum.  I knew I didn’t want to cook in aluminum, so I started searching Craigslist for a stainless steel model.

Sadly, after two  months of searching, I couldn’t find a second-hand pressure cooker that wasn’t made from aluminum.  So I went ahead and sprang for a brand new one with the rationale that I would use it for many, many years.  The model I chose is a Duromatic 8-1 from the Swiss company Kuhn Rikon.  The pot is made in Switzerland and is rated highly on all the sites I checked.  And fortunately, it comes packaged in cardboard rather than plastic or Styrofoam.

(Disclosure:  I paid for the pressure cooker myself, and I’m not getting any compensation for writing about it here, but if you click on the Amazon link above and purchase anything, I will receive a small commission.)

There are also electric pressure cookers, but I opted for simplicity. I don’t need another gadget taking up space on my counter. And this pot can be used for other purposes if I put a regular lid on it from one of my other pots.

Cooking Beans

The Duromatic comes with detailed instructions for use as well as an excellent cooking guide with recipes.  To learn to cook beans in it, I consulted the guide as well as Katie Kimball’s post “Pressure Cooking Dry Beans/Legumes.”  Katie wrote the definitive guide to cooking beans, so I knew she wouldn’t steer me wrong.

Step one (optional): Soak beans overnight, or at least for a few hours.  With a pressure cooker, you don’t actually have to soak them at all, but if you can remember to do it ahead of time, they will take less time to cook and will be more digestible and nutritious.

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Step two:  Dump out the soaking water and then pick out any weirdo beans or things that look like they aren’t beans at all.  Put beans in pressure cooker and cover with the recommended amount of water, per instructions, along with extras of your choice.

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I added celery, garlic, bay leaves, and a strip of kombu.  Kombu is a kind of seaweed that adds umami and, according to Emily Ho of theKitchn, “the amino acids in kombu help soften beans and make them more digestible.”  Fortunately, I can buy dried kombu and other kinds of seaweed without plastic from the bulk bins at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco.  (My friend Deb Baida was kind enough to snap this photo for me since I didn’t think to do it when I was at Rainbow. Ironically, they were sold out the day she took the pic.)

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Step three: Fasten on the lid, turn on your stove burner, and bring the pot to high pressure. The Duromatic has a little thing-a-majig in the middle of the lid that goes up as the pressure builds. The first red line is low. The second red line is high. The instruction guide let’s you know whether to cook at high or low pressure depending on what food is in the pot. When the desired pressure is reached, you turn down the heat and let it cook for the specified amount of time.

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Okay, so I’ll admit this part was scary the first couple of times. The pot doesn’t have a whistle to alert you; you do have to watch for the red lines. I was afraid I wouldn’t turn down the heat in time and the lid would blow off. But the Duromatic has five different safety features to release pressure if you forget. You would have to forget for a long period of time, and if you did, you’d really have to worry about burning your house down… just like you would with a regular pot.

Step four: After cooking for the specified time, take the beans off the stove and let the pot release its pressure slowly. There are ways to hurry the process, but with beans, you want to let the pressure go down naturally to let the beans finish cooking and avoid spitting. When the little thingie has gone all the way back down, the pressure is at zero and you can remove the lid. (Before then, the lid won’t come off.)

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Step five: Remove the bay leaves. And you can either remove the kombu or stir it in with the beans.

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Then, drain your beans and try to save the cooking liquid to make broth.

Storing beans

Spoon your beans into glass jars and store in the refrigerator to be eaten soon or in the freezer for later.

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Like I said, it just takes a little work on the weekends, and you can have beans that are almost as convenient as canned whenever you want. The one thing that takes slightly more time is defrosting them. You don’t want to put a frozen jar in hot water, but room temperature water is fine. Beans thaw out pretty quickly that way, as long as they were drained well before going in the jar. Wetter beans and mashed beans will take longer.

The main advantage to cooking beans in a pressure cooker rather than in a regular pot is that you not only save time but also energy. We have a gas stove in our apartment, so every time we turn on the burner, in addition to consuming fossil fuel, we are creating indoor air pollution. The less time doing that, the better.

31 comments
zigzag
zigzag

For those who don't have a pressure cooker or just aren't going to bother to cook their own beans, Eden Foods beans are in BPA-free cans and available at Whole Foods.  

Jil SF
Jil SF

I don't have a pressure cooker, but I use a clay pot to cook beans in my oven. I don't ever soak the beans. I wash them and pick through for any strange nonbean items, put them in the pot with water, a little salt, and bay leaves and then bake them for 1 1/2 - 2 hours at 325 degrees F. Perfect every time. I suppose the pressure cooker saves energy? I don't know. I'd have to do an energy consumption analysis. I found your blog through the Artists at the Dump announcement. Nice work you're doing! 

anniebanannie
anniebanannie

I luckily have a stainless steel pressure cooker and I love it.  I just mostly use it for stocks and beans, that I freeze in portion size containers ...glass.  I just wanted to add that my Presto Professional, a wonderful product by the way, says you must soak the beans.  Their reasoning is while cooking dried beans the foam that naturally occurs can clog the release valve.  I am not an expert nor pretend to be one but I just wanted to make note that you should refer to your own owners manual to check.  I would also recommend a slow cooker instead of top of stove.  It uses very little electricity and just merrily cooks away while you are doing other things to save our planet....ps...the flat bottom stainless steel freezer containers are wonderful for freezing.  They release the food with just a small bit of water over them when turned upside down, not like the glass that you need to take out in the morning to thaw before dinner.  A little pricey in the beginning, but for a quick thaw they are the best. 



colleen
colleen

i don't know, I got a pressure cooker from my mother in law to cook beans,but honestly, the thing took soooo long to get up to heat that I really can't say it was any faster than just a regular pot.  i maybe saved 10 minutes off the time. 

Tracey TieF
Tracey TieF

I am convinced! My mother had a giant aluminum one I was terrified of, but I am going to go for it. I'll try your link but Amazon.com won't ship to Canada, so I might lose your kickback on my way to Amazon.ca. Boo. 


BTW I started cooking with a VitaClay slow cooker after my 6,000 year old ceramic slow cooker freaked me out with potential leaching of metals. I love it and I am going to sell them soon.

Abhishek Gupta
Abhishek Gupta

Actually pressure cookers have been widely used in India for generations. They cook all sorts of amazing food using standard pressure cookers. Agreed that they were a little unsafe, although I have rarely heard of one go off in my life, they have become much much standardized and safer to use now.

JenniferAnneJohnstone
JenniferAnneJohnstone

LOVE my electric pressure cooker for beans, etc!  I too try to limit gadgets, but there are some definite advantages:  it frees up a burner on the stove when I batch cook to save time/energy, and it's so easy to program.  I have an InstantPot, which functions as a steamer & a slow cooker as well as a pressure cooker.  If you decide to get a second cooker, you might try to see if you can find a multi-use electric that doesn't use a lot of plastic!  If so, please share :)

Plastic-Free Tuesday
Plastic-Free Tuesday

After reading your blog I have been thinking about the pressure cooker a bit. As you mention Beth, what about the nutritious value of beans cooked in a pressure cooker vs a slow cooker? And what about broth? Would a slow cooker be more suitable for both?

Anna@Green Talk
Anna@Green Talk

Been cooking beans like this for years!  My pressure cooker is made of stainless steel too.  I can't live without my pressure cooker!

Renee Delight-La Torre
Renee Delight-La Torre

I have had mine, a Kuhn Rikkon duo, for about 10 years and I wouldn't want to be without it. The newer ones, like the one (actually two pots, one lid) I have are much safer than the old jiggle top ones. My grandmother's old jiggle top pressure cooker seemed to regularly explode. I use my pressure cooker several times a week.

The Veggie Queen
The Veggie Queen

I have been so in love with my pressure cooker for almost 20 years that I produced a DVD (Pressure Cooking: A Fresh Look, Delicious Dishes in Minutes), devoted a chapter in my first book (The Veggie Queen) to pressure cooking and then wrote an entire book on pressure cooking: The New Fast Food. I am a believer and you will often find me spreading the word, to help people eat better and to save the planet. (http://www.theveggiequeen.com)

This is a great post. I might suggest, though, that instead of covering the beans with liquid, that you cut down the amount of liquid as they don't need so much. Having more liquid int eh pressure cooker means that it takes longer to get to pressure and longer to come down and that uses more energy.

I am with you in reducing plastic use -ugh. Luckily where i live, they just banned plastic bags. It's a wonderful thing. We all have to do what we can to save the planet - and ourselves.

Plastic-Free Tuesday
Plastic-Free Tuesday

Thank you for introducing me too the pressure cooker! Will consider getting one.

PlasticMinimalist
PlasticMinimalist

Thank you for sharing your experience with a pressure cooker. I cook my beans in a large soup pot. But of course a pressure cooker would save a lot of energy. Also, sometimes my beans come out too soft (almost mashed) or too hard. Perhaps a pressure cooker allows you more control over the cooking process?

EcoCatLady
EcoCatLady

OK... I'm not trying to be the voice of dissent here, but after what is referred to around here as "The Great Pea Soup Disaster of 2003" I've been a tad bit afraid of pressure cookers. Now, I was using an old model - one inherited from my grandmother... and nothing really terrible happened - the lead plug did blow - so as long as you don't count coating the entire kitchen (floor, ceiling, walls, windows, and every knob, switch, handle and light fixture) with a fine spray of pea soup "terrible"...

Anyhow, word to the wise - if you're using a pressure cooker, and the thing suddenly stops making its little hissing noise, it means that SOMETHING IS WRONG, and you should go remove it from the heat instead of just sitting there like an idiot in the other room futzing on the computer thinking to yourself "oh, that's nice - it's not so noisy anymore."

Just sayin'...

camie0
camie0

What all do you do with a big pot of beans? I have a tendency to cook up a big pot then get bored of just beans and rice and they go to waste.

Sheri Puckette
Sheri Puckette

Great solution to things that take a long time to cook, and for avoiding processed/in a can food. I still go the long route of soaking, then using a slow cooker- am overcoming a childhood fear of pressure cookers. Got one last fall tho for canning my own broth and veggies- haven't blown up the house yet, lol.

jonnie
jonnie

Great instructions, and totally agree: the pressure cooker is an awesome tool! We use not only for beans, but (being omnivore) for meats, broth, soups, so forth. If you can afford and handle a larger sized pot, you can also do pressure canning which expands the possibilities well beyond tomatoes and other fruits.

I think a great choice would be to have a reasonably large pressure cooker, and double up and use as your stock/pasta/all purpose pot.

Definitely read and follow directions.

Anneke
Anneke

I wonder if freezing some beans flat on a sheet pan (quarter sheet fits my freezer) would work. You'd freeze them, then put them into a jar after that, so you can pour out as many or few of the beans as you need, instead of committing to defrosting the whole jar. Just a thought. I freeze fruits and veggies this way, but haven't done it with beans.

Nan Sea Love
Nan Sea Love

Thank you for posting, i have been cooking beans for us and our pets (got to get off now and cook some more) and keep planning to read instructions on pressure cooker as it saves so much time and energy.

jonnie
jonnie

@anniebanannie  Totally agree re reading your appliance's instructions! If one did inherit a pc or whatever, you can sometimes find an owner's manual online in pdf!

Also agree about ss in the freezer. Just wish I could find square or rectangular 1 C/Pt/quart containers to freeze food portions that can't be mounded or frozen loose: soup, broth, tomatoes. Round is just too inefficient in my little freezer.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@colleen  Interesting.  Mine goes up to heat very quickly.  It saves hours, depending on what kind of bean I'm cooking.  According to this article, beans cooked on the stove top in a regular pot should simmer from one to three hours, depending on the type of bean.  I can cook them in the pressure cooker in about 20 minutes if I've soaked them ahead of time.  I'm wondering if yours is defective.


http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-beans-on-the-stove-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-182717

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

It's possible that slow cooking beans is more nutritious.  But for those of us without the time, I think it's better to use the pressure cooker and avoid BPA than to open a can.  The broth from the pressure cooker is great.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@The Veggie Queen  Thank you for the suggestion to use less water.  I'll try that next time.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@EcoCatLady  You're so funny.  Yes, my pressure cooker will start shooting out steam if I let the pressure get too high.  I think it's very different from the old fashioned kind.

jonnie
jonnie

@EcoCatLady  that's the whole problem with the older models: easy for the little jigglier to stick, then explode! Newer ones have valves that release pressure long before it gets to the explode>coat the ceiling with dinner phase :))

You still need to make sure the pressure release hole in the lid is clean, don't overfill, etc; adding oil to the beans keeps them from foaming up and potentially plugging the valve… Also, since they're no longer a "jiggler" based system, if you have a newer model, quiet is no longer always bad.

This is one tool I think is wise to buy new.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@camie0  If you freeze them, then you don't have to eat them all at once and get bored.  Just take out a jar of beans when you're in the mood for beans.  

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

Sheri Puckette I have a friend who cooks beans in a slow cooker. They're probably more nutritious cooked slowly like that. But for people who would opt for cans because beans take so long to cook, this could be a solution.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@jonnie  Yep. I've already been doubling up.  :-)

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@Anneke  Great idea!  That is what I do when I cook veggies like kale and spinach.  I put serving-sized portions on a tray and freeze them separately before putting them together in my stainless steel container.  I'm guessing beans could work the same way.