One of the oldest issues with beans is salt. Conventional wisdom says not to salt too early or the skins will get tough but you want to salt long before you serve so the salt has a chance to get into the bean and not just salt the liquid. I salt when the the beans are somewhat cooked and smell of beans is in the air, not just the aromatics they've been cooking with.
I've heard that salting too early is a myth and I've made beans where I've salted at the start and the beans came out fine. I think maybe a little grainy but maybe it was my imagination. I've also had beans, crops I knew were fresh, take hours too long for no reason. I think this is why I'm a little shy to salt at the beginning.
Reader Kate Stavisky writes: I am a long-time reader of your site and I did finally order some beans from you late last year -- yum, yum! I LOVE beans. I do make some effort to buy local beans, but yours are so fantastic that I don't feel TOO guilty shipping them cross country (I live in Massachusetts). I figure, at least they don't need to travel in refridgerated trucks, right?
Anyway, I subscribe to _Cooks Illustrated_ and in the most recent issue, they suggest soaking beans -- almost brining them -- in salt water, which you then drain off, doing the actual cooking in unsalted water. They say that this makes the beans' skins more tender. You seem to know a lot of "bean lore" -- I was wondering if you happen to know if there's any precedent for this in traditional settings? I did try it and the skins were meltingly tender -- but I worry that I'm draining off a lot of nutritional value with that salted soaking water.
Just thought I would ask you if you had any wisdom to share on the subject!!
I'm sticking to my old ways just because I'm becoming a grumpy old man and I like to think I have things like this figured out. What do you think?