Among the pulses there is none more nourishing, more generally liked, nor more useful to the vegetarian cook than the haricot bean. Whether on account of its refined flavour, its delicate colour, its size, or last, but not least, its cheapness, I do not hesitate to place it first. Like the potato, however, its very simplicity lays it open to careless treatment, and many who would be the first to appreciate its good qualities if it were placed before them well cooked and served, now recoil from the idea of habitually feeding off what they know only under the guise of a stodgy, insipid, or watery mass. A few hints, therefore, respecting the best manner of preparing this vegetable may be useful.
Firstly, the beans should invariably be washed and placed in a basin of cold water the night before they are required for use, and should remain in soak about ten or twelve hours. If left longer than this during hot weather they are apt to turn sour.
They should not be cooked in the same water that they have been soaked in.
Soft water must be used to cook them. If this be not obtainable, Maignen's Ante-Calcaire will be found to render the water soft.
Salt should not be added until they are at least half cooked, as its tendency is to harden them. This applies also to peas, lentils, etc.
They take about two hours to cook, or three if required very soft.
They must not be allowed to boil very fast, for, like potatoes, they are then liable to break before becoming tender.
About two pints of water, one ounce of butter, and one teaspoon of salt to half-pint of soaked beans, may be taken as a fair average.
During soaking they swell to nearly double their original size, and in boiling they double again.
Never throw away the liquor in which they are boiled but reserve it as "stock".
When they are to be plainly served as a vegetable, it is best to remove the lid of the saucepan a few minutes before dishing up, and so reduce the liquor to the desired strength.
When required for frying they should be strained as soon as tender, and spread over a plate to dry. They may then be fried in butter or oil.
Always make a point of tasting them before sending to table, for if not sufficiently salted they are very insipid.
All spices, herbs, etc., boiled with the beans for flavouring purposes, should be tied in a small piece of muslin, which may at any moment be easily removed.
Haricot bean pulp, which will be found frequently mentioned in the following recipes, is made by boiling the beans until tender and rather dry, and then rubbing them through a wire sieve with a wooden spoon.