My favorite way to prepare beans is in a clay pot, right on the gas stove. It looks great and there's an element of "Look Ma! No hands!", but it's also a clever gentle way to slow cook food.
My friend Christopher Ann emailed me from a recent trip to Mexico and told me that there were a lot of pots that I might like. I told her I'd prefer a few big, good pieces more than a lot of little ones, so she went on a wild shopping spree and drove back from Mexico with the most glorious bounty of clay pots, cazuelas and bowls that I could imagine.
I "cured" a few of them right away by soaking them in water overnight and then frying a little olive oil and garlic. Ta-da! Ready for use. Paula Wolfert, who is working on a book on the very subject, suggests never exposing the clay to rapid temperature changes. Start a cold pot on low and gradually turn up the heat if needed. But the really nice surprise is how well the clay pots cook things. You can saute things almost as quickly as in a regular metal frying pan once the pot is heated up.
To celebrate, I had Chris and some other friends over for dinner. I made a chile sauce with Ancho and Guajillo chiles and when well-cooked, added several bags of assorted seafood. It was swell and I think I should consider opening a store.