Butter beans are legumes native to South America and widely cultivated for their nutritional value. These beans can be purchased fresh during the summer, as well as canned, dried or frozen in the off season. In most cases, fresh and frozen beans can be cooked in a similar manner, though dried beans usually require additional preparation. Fresh and frozen beans are typically rinsed thoroughly and placed in a large pot with enough water to cover. The beans are then brought to a boil, simmered for about 30 minutes and seasoned to taste.
One important thing to remember when preparing to cook butter beans is that they contain a small amount of a toxin known as linamarin, which turns into a compound of cyanide during digestion. This toxin is removed during the cooking process, but consuming raw butter beans can make a person very ill. This means cooks should avoid tasting the beans until they are almost done.
Fresh butter beans are a staple of the southeastern U.S. during the summer months and are often frozen or canned by home gardeners. Fresh beans can be purchased with or without the shell and should be rinsed several times before cooking. A large pot should be used if one intends to cook butter beans, because both fresh and frozen beans will produce a significant amount of foam that can boil over the side of the pot. Keeping the beans uncovered while they are coming to a boil and then immediately reducing the heat to a simmer can reduce the risk of the foam slopping out of the pot and all over the stove top. Once the foam subsides, the beans should be covered and cooked until they are done.
Dried butter beans require a few extra steps before they are ready to cook. First, dried beans should be picked and sorted, removing any foreign matter and odd-looking beans. Then the beans must be soaked overnight or pre-boiled for 2 minutes and left to soak for a couple hours before cooking. The beans should be drained and rinsed with fresh water before beginning the final steps. Once the pre-cooking steps have been followed, additional time is still usually required to fully cook butter beans that have been dried.
Chefs use a variety of seasonings when they cook butter beans, including salt, pepper, onion, garlic and pork fat. The beans can be served as a side dish or as part of a main course dish, such as a soup. Regardless of the preparation technique, these beans are an excellent source of dietary fiber and protein.