Friday, 13 June 2008

Why skin broad beans?

Broad beans (fava beans in the US), in season right now, are one of my favourite vegetables. They're also one of the most wasteful since chefs collectively decided that we must not only pod them but skin them.

It's true that the greyish, wrinkly skin doesn't look particularly attractive. But it's tasty and not too tough unless you're dealing with the last beans of the season. True, too, that the tiny jewel-like emerald green beans inside are prettier in salads and dishes like risotto. But there are many dishes such as the rustic one below, from my book Meat and Two Veg, where they're absolutely fine.

I never used to skin broad beans and when I first heard of the idea I thought that no-one would want to faff about popping them out of their skins. But it seems we do - odd when so many people can't even be bothered to wash a lettuce these days.

So are you a bean-skinner or do you leave them on?

Boiled bacon with broad beans and parsley sauce
Serves 4-6
1.5kg piece smoked collar of bacon or gammon, soaked overnight in cold water*
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 3 or 4 pieces
1 stick of celery, washed, trimmed and cut into 3 pieces (optional)
a few peppercorns
For the sauce
1 small onion, peeled and halved
1 bayleaf
350ml whole or semi-skimmed milk
25g butter
25g plain flour
400g fresh or frozen broad beans (podded weight)
A small bunch or pack of parsley (about 20g), destalked and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Drain the bacon, put in a large saucepan and cover with fresh, cold water. Bring slowly to the boil and skim off any froth. Tuck the vegetables round the sides, add the peppercorns bring back to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer very slowly so that bubbles just break on the surface for about 2 hours. About an hour before the bacon is due to be ready put an onion and bayleaf in a small pan and pour over the milk. Heat slowly until the milk is almost boiling then take off the heat, cover and set aside for half an hour. Cook the broad beans lightly (about 5 minutes) and drain. Pass the milk through a sieve into a jug. Heat the butter gently in a non-stick pan, stir in the flour and cook for a few seconds. Pour in the warm milk in one go whisking as you pour. Replace over a low heat, bring up to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for a few minutes until the sauce thickens, adding a couple of tablespoons of the ham cooking liquid to get a nice light texture. Tip in the drained broad beans and stir in the parsley. Check the seasoning adding salt and pepper to taste. Carve the ham in thick slices and serve with the broad beans and parsley sauce and some new potatoes.
* If you don’t remember to soak the bacon just cover it with cold water, bring to the boil and discard the water.


Unknown said...

Skins on!

Fiona Beckett said...


TrillianAstra said...

Having always associated broad beans with my granny, I was very disappointed to discover what fava beans really were. 'I ate his liver with broad beans and a nice Chianti' just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Fiona Beckett said...

Doesn't really, does it Charlie? Nice one! Good luck with your veggie eating experiment . . .

Anonymous said...

Skinned broad beans for a salad I made last night. Won't bother again - as you said, too much faff!

Fiona Beckett said...

ah well, at least you tried it ;-)

Quinta das Abelhas said...

I didn't even know they were supposed to be skinned!

Alice said...

I understand that the skin of the broad bean - not the pod - is slightly toxic, especially to certain sensitive people. I live in rural Italy where nobody would even *think* about skinnning a bean, but I have certainly seen plenty of information advocating skinning before cooking.

I hated fresh broad beans (unskinned) when I was young - they tasted so bitter. Maybe beacuse they were slightly older, and the toxicity in the skins was more pronounced?

Now, I generally skin them for cooking, but eat them with gusto very ftresh and raw!

Follow this link for scientific discussion of the toxicity thing

Anonymous said...

Alice, they're not toxic to most people. Some people, about 400 million people but more in the malarial regions of the world like Africa or the middle east, have a genetic condition called "favism", in which fava beans can cause a blood cell destroying reaction.

Most people don't have this genetic condition and so can eat fava beans with zero harm.

Also, that article mentions that the skins of mature dried beans are not toxic to these people, only the skins of mature fresh beans.

I leave the skins on; I figure its more fiber, and give the cooked bean more character.

Joss said...

I have to say, Britain is the only place that I have been inflicted with the skin of the broad bean. France, Italy, Spain - all pick their beans young, blanch and remove the velvety skin to expose that vibrant, green interior - pure nectar! Have just photographed the plateful I prepared tonight and put an article on my blog (

Will be picking the ones from our allotment very soon!

James said...

In favour of skinning
1. They look prettier, and perhaps taste slightly nicer.
2. It doesn't actually take that long. Practise makes perfect, the first time I tried it it seemed an awful faff, but by the second time, I was ripping along, popping them out of there skins and a kilo or so of beans only took an additional 10 minutes.

Against skinning
1. The difference is not worth all the hassle, and you are throwing away perfectly good roughage.
2. They are not the cheapest vegetable, (at my local supermarket, now the summer of 2011 they are being sold for £4 per kilo), and just in podding broad beans you lose so much weight, then why lose more by skinning them? You lose about 60% of their weight just podding them, if you then skin them, you'll lose another 14% on top of that leaving you just over 25% of the weight you bought. They then become at approx £16 per kilo, a rather expensive luxury.

Personal confession
I do buy broad beans occasionally because I love them, and I do skin them because my wife is a fussy eater, and this is the only way i can sell them to her.

Moral of this story.
If you can, grow your own.

Arno said...

Busy since last night with a batch (home-grown)to peal and pop and whatever! I thought what a shame it is to discard the skins...and went ahead to rinse thoroughly, cut off both ends, chopped 'em up and fried with onion and potato seasoned with common salt and pepper ... added a dash of butter (NOT margerine) ... VOILA! fit for us country dwellers; and even fit for the Queen (if she enjoys broad-beans...)

Anonymous said...

Skinned they are just that much easier for beginners. I think if I had had them skinned as a child I would have taken to them much earlier.

Anonymous said...

I think they're talking about skinning each bean, Arno, not shelling from the pod.
Personally, I grow them and pick them very young...if you do that when each bean is about the size of a small fingernail, they are exactly like a skinned larger bean. Boiling for a couple of minutes takes care of any toxins unless you have a favism disorder.
I never skin and feel sorry for those who have to buy these beans. they are so easy to grow.
I think peeling each bean was invented by bored chefs pfaffing around as they usually do.
Bon appetit!