Tired of waiting hours on end for our beans to brine, we wondered if we could take care of this time-consuming step beforehand and save them in the freezer.
In the test kitchen, we have found that soaking dried beans overnight in a saltwater solution will ensure soft, tender skins. During the long soak, sodium ions from the salt displace magnesium and calcium ions in the cell walls of the tough outer shell of the beans. Because sodium ions weaken the pectin in the cell walls more than these other minerals, water has an easier time penetrating the skins, softening their texture as they cook. A bonus: The brine thoroughly seasons the beans.
But brining beans means you’ve got to wait at least eight hours before you can cook them. We wondered if it would be possible to brine beans and then freeze them prior to cooking. To test this, we brined two batches of dried pinto and black beans, rinsed and drained them, and then froze them in zipper-lock bags for several weeks before cooking. When these beans were compared side by side with beans brined the night before cooking, tasters could not tell them apart. So if you want ready-to-cook beans on hand anytime, just brine and freeze them.