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Thu Apr 16 2009

Wait, No Need to Soak Those Beans

Baby Lima BeansIf there is one delightful twist in "The Apprentice," a largely predictable (though charming and informative) memoir by chef Jacques Pepin, it's in the recipes.

It is a little ironic, if fitting, that the recipes are the cream of the crop in the French emigree chef's memoir. In a 2003 interview with Portland-based Powells' Books, Pepin said that recipes weren't supposed to be in the book at all. "I've done twenty-one books of cookery, and frankly, I really didn't want to do any recipes," he said. Luckily, a handful of recipes ended up in the book--and some are intriguing. In line with his home-made fast food credo, the recipes in the memoir are mostly a quick and easy affiar that can be prepared on weeknights, with tips to save time and energy.

One revelation, to me, was the idea that beans need not be soaked before cooking--provided that they are cooked slowly for a long time. In a recipe called Gloria's Pork Ribs and Red Beans, the red beans are rinsed, and are thrown right into the pot. The beans slowly rehydrate as they cook with the other ingredients, for about 2 hours. I was a bit skeptical (as I was with the one-pot bread recipe from the same chef), but as I love beans but never have the foresight to soak them overnight (I'm more of an impulsive cook who makes whatever she feels like eating at the moment, not what she might 24 hours later), I decided to give it a try.

Cassoulet with Fennel and Sicilian SausageAs I had a bulb of fennel, some chicken, dried white lima beans and Sicilian sausage, I settled on a Cassoulet. I poured the washed lima beans into the pot and simmered it for about an hour before taking a peek. The beans looked underhydrated, with the powderly white color largely intact in the center, although many were starting to turn translucent around the edges with their skin loosening up. With another hour of anxious wait and occaional peeks, though, the beans were perfectly hydrated. The break rate (and skin slipoff rate) might have been higher, if compared to carefully pre-soaked beans, but as I don't care too much about the visual neatness when it comes to rustic cooking, this was a moot point. The flavors of the chicken and fennel had penetrated into the beans just fine, despite my worries. From the flavor and the texture, nobody would have known that the beans hadn't been pre-soaked. It turned out so well that I had to wonder the origin of the dictum "thou shall soak thy beans."

Cassoulet with Fennel, White Lima Beans and Chicken
(Serves four plus some leftover)

2 tablespoon olive oil
2 chicken legs (i.e., thigh and drumsticks), preferably bone-in
1/2 pound Sicilian sausage, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bulb fennel, trimmed and cut into chunks
1/2 pound white lima beans, washed
1 1/2 cup canned tomatoes (chopped if not already) with juice
salt & pepper

Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a skillet. Brown the chicken pieces on all sides, starting from the skin side. Set aside. In the same pan, fry the sausage until browned on the outside.
Meanwhile, fry the garlic and onions in the remaining one tablespoon of the oil, in a big pot, until the onions are translucent. Toss in the fennel and fry until slightly wilted. Add the browned chicken pieces, sausage pieces and canned tomatoes. Add water so that everything is immersed, but not floating around freely. Season with a bit of salt and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cook for 2 hours. If too much of the water is lost, add more as it cooks, one cup at a time.
When beans are cooked through, it's done. Adjust the salt if necessary. Add some freshly ground pepper and serve with crusty bread.

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Seth Anderson / April 17, 2009 5:14 PM

Awesome news - I'm like you in that I never, ever can remember to soak the g*d-d*ed beans the night before, so end up hardly ever making them, even though they are a favorite.

I'm trying this recipe, or a variation, soon as I can make it to my kitchen.

mh95149 / April 17, 2009 11:34 PM

You can use a pressure cooker too! Beans ready in less then 40 min.....

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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