A pale shade of green, Flageolet beans are sometimes known as the "caviar of beans" because of their subtle flavor and the high esteem in which they are held by food lovers.
What Are Flageolet Beans?
Flageolets originated in France and are primarily associated with that cuisine. These tiny, tender shell beans are a kidney-shaped common bean, harvested from their pods right before they fully ripen. They are dried in the shade to maintain their light green color. In the United States, they are grown in California. Although they are a common bean in terms of their variety, they are not your common bean in terms of price or availability and are more expensive.
How to Cook With Flageolet Beans
If you can get your hands on fresh shell beans, they can be directly added to simmering water or stock and typically take less than an hour to cook but they don't need any soaking beforehand. They're especially good in a stock flavored with mirepoix and bacon. The typical French preparation of flageolets involves cooking the beans with bacon, rosemary, broth, and bay leaf.
Dried flageolets need to be soaked for a bit, and there's disagreement about how long. Some cooks recommend at least six hours, or even overnight. The problem with this is that the beans can start to ferment if soaked for too long, which alters their delicate flavor. If the beans are fresh (meaning recently dried within the past 12 months), it is probably sufficient to soak them for an hour or two, and then simmer them until tender.
Flageolets are traditionally paired with lamb (or mutton) or cassoulet-type dishes, although they are also served with poultry and seafood recipes. Like other beans, they can also be used in salads, soups, and stews, and take well to being puréed for a dip.
What Do They Taste Like?
These beans have a mild, delicate flavor, and firm but creamy texture.
You can certainly cook and eat them on their own, well seasoned and with butter or olive oil, but flageolets work well in a variety of other recipes that call for cannellini or Great Northern beans, such as the borlotti bean soup with tomato and spinach.
- Herbed White Bean Soup
- Easy Vegetarian Three Bean and Grape Salad
- Classic French Chicken and Sausage Cassoulet
Where to Buy Flageolet Beans
In the United States, flageolets are mostly available dried and you may see them packaged by the pound or pound and half. Some farmers, such as in California, grow any of a number of heirloom flageolet varieties so you may find them at farmers markets. In France, they're found fresh in August and September. Admittedly, flageolets, in general, are not as common as black, cannellini, or pinto beans, so if you can't find them in the grocery store among the specialty dried bean selection, you can definitely source them online.
Dried beans have a long shelf life, especially if they are stored in a cool, dry place such as a pantry or cupboard. But after six months they start to lose some of their moisture. Old beans take longer to cook and fall apart more quickly when cooked, too.
Once flageolets are cooked, whatever you don't use in your recipe can, like other cooked beans, be frozen for up to six months. For meal prep purposes, freeze the rest in smaller increments (such as 2 cups) in zip-close plastic bags or freezer-safe plastic containers. Defrost in the fridge overnight so they can better retain their shape, or add them frozen toward the end of cooking something like a white chicken chill or soup.
Flageolet vs. White vs. Navy vs. Great Northern beans
It's easy to get all of these beans mixed up. All of them are white, mild, and creamy, but they differ in size, texture, and, to some extent, shape. Sometimes they're all referred to generically as kidney beans. Cannelini, the largest of the white beans, are most commonly used in Italian cooking. Both hold their shape well when cooked. Great Northerns are larger than navy beans, but smaller than cannellini, and offer a slightly nutty taste and a firm texture. Small and oval-shaped, navy beans are sometimes referred to as pea beans. They cook the fastest and are often used in chowders and baked bean dishes. Many of these beans can be used interchangeably.