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Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans)


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How are you making the refried beans? I've seen some pretty screwed-up recipes online and in English-language cookbooks.

This might be something for a new topic, though.

I remember a few food firsts: my first shockingly emerald kiwi fruit at age 12, my first fresh mango at age 23 and my first refried beans at age 9, served at a brand-new Taco Time, a Mexican restaurant so authentic the tater-tots had a dusting of spice powder over them instead of plain salt. :shock:

Ever since then I have loved refried beans (and all kinds of other beans), but while I generally cook most of my bean dishes from dry beans (with the occasional tin of chickpeas used for quick hummus purposes), when it comes to the refried kind they usually come out of a can. A few years ago I managed to get my hands on pinto beans and black beans (not easily found in dry form at the shops here) and have made a few attempts at home-made refried beans using a few recipes found on the net. But I'm not really happy with them. They're lacking in flavour, they're rather pasty in texture and they're just not that enjoyable. Please note that when I eat the pintos before trying to mash them, they have a great nice flavour, but it seems to disintegrate upon mashing. I have had some success with roughly squashing pintos or blackbeans to form part of a quesadilla along with some mild feta and cabbage and coriander (cilantro).

The truth is, I'm over the canned stuff - it's pappy, high in salt and kind of pricey. BUT, I still want some good beans! So, can you help me? How do you make your refritos? I'm particularly interested in:

  • How far you cook the beans at the whole bean stage
  • The amount and type of fat you add
  • Your mashing methods
  • The seasonings you add
  • How long and in what you fry them

Finally, I'd love to know how you serve them and what you eat them with.

I have easy access to most spices (however no epazote until I get a chance to grow my own), and can currently even get my hands on good lard (I don't expect that to last unfortunately). Amazingly Cholula hot sauce is pretty readily available at the supermarket and delis, and I have a mail order source for dried chiles. Cheese is more difficult - there is only one source I know of for Queso Fresco, and it requires more coordinating than I am currently willing to do.

Personally, I can only use dry beans - although I can access tinned pintos and black beans their cost makes them unappealing. However, I'd still be interested in hearing how you season them.

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This is how I make them.

My favorite beans for this application are black ("turtle") beans, although I live in the heart of pinto country. Just use whatever you like, keeping in mind that pale refritos look kind of unappetizing.

I know people who use veg oil, vegetable shortening, etc. Brown lard is good, bacon drippings are even better, and if you use it to fry some chorizo beforehand that's ideal. You're going to need maybe 2/3s as much fat by volume as the amount of beans you're going to fry. (This is not a low-calorie dish. I suspect it was developed by people who needed every calorie they could get in their diet and couldn't afford to waste leftover fats.)

As far as frying pans go, cast iron is nice and traditional, but we come pretty close to burning the beans, so I suggest something that doesn't retain that much heat.

You'll also need a metal spatula and a masher. I like the sort that's a plate with holes cut out instead of wire.

Soak and cook beans with a half onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. (At this stage they're known as "frijoles de olla," beans from the pot). Separate whatever quantity you want to serve as-is or to make charros, etc. Drain the beans you are going to fry. The liquid is typically reserved and used for cooking rice.

Prepare your fat. Mince and fry onion, garlic and as much chile as your conscience allows in the fat you are going to use. Guajillo and ancho good for this, but again, use whatever you like. You want the fat quite hot.

Once the veg is very well cooked, you can start putting in the beans, about 1/2 cup at a time, and mashing and integrating with the fat each installment before putting in the next one. Remember the fat must be quite hot, and it doesn't hurt if the beans are hot as well.

Salt and season with ground cumin as you cook. You want to stir these more or less constantly, scraping the bottom of the frying pan with your spatula. This is particularly important towards the end of the cooking, as most of the water will have evaporated by then. Continue until the beans are just a bit thinner than you'd like to serve them; they'll thicken as the fat cools.

Serve with tostadas, salsa, chorizo, crumbled or grated cheese, or with fried eggs for breakfast, or as an entree, maybe alongside queso flameado (which is worth another topic all on its own).

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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Here's what I do. Nothing that will knock your socks off, but it's reliable and easily modified. Which I often do.

Refried Pinto Beans

Ingredients:

1/2 pound pinto beans

3 tablespoons onion

1 tablespoon garlic

1/2 teaspoon cumin seed

1 small chipotle pepper

double smoked bacon

water

14 oz. can of Swanson’s (low sodium) chicken broth

Wash beans, pick out any stones, and put in a two quart sauce pan. Add water to twice the depth of the beans. Bring to a boil and shut off heat. After beans have swollen more than the height of water add chicken broth.

After an hour turn on heat and add all the rest of ingredients as it heats. When it gets near a boil turn down heat and simmer until beans are soft.

After the beans are better than half cooked start tasting the broth to see what to add – if necessary. If all the ingredients are really good, nothing will need to be added. If it lacks full flavor add some Williams Beano pinto bean spice. Good stuff. Check out this for kicks. Might want to add some Mexican oregano, if you have some.

When beans are soft enough to mash turn off heat. This means pretty soft, but not ready to fall apart.

Now it gets personal, as for doing this recipe I use an All Clad 2 quart saucepan for cooking the beans and an All Clad 2 quart sauté for the mashing. Whatever you do for the mashing stage you want a fairly shallow pot or pan.

Melt some bacon fat (or good lard) in the sauté pan and add some chopped onion. After that’s cooked only a little bit, using a slotted spoon, add the beans, but remove the chipotle unless you’re looking for the heat. Mash the beans with a potato masher until they’re the consistency you’re looking for. I like a few whole beans left in the mix.

After they’re mashed, add cooking liquid. Here it gets tricky as there’s usually more liquid left in the pot than should be added to the beans. Less is better, but you want a kind of soupy mixture which you then cook down until the mixture is the right consistency. Sometimes I add some chopped onion after adding the liquid.

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While I don't consider myself a Mexican expert, I'm pretty satisfied with the refried beans that I make. I start with about two pounds of dry black beans, sort out the dirt and rocks, rinse them well, and soak them overnight. The next day I drain them and cook in water to cover, bringing them to a rolling boil and skimming the crud that surfaces before reducing them to a simmer until they're done. After I go to simmer, I add some finely chopped onion and some fat and oil. Typically, this is about half a cup of onion, a quarter cup of smoky pork lard (from the last pulled pork project) and a quarter cup of plain (not extra virgin) olive oil. I also add a couple of stems of epazote. I add enough water in the pot to keep the beans covered.

(My local source for epazote sells bunches of epazote stems or tops which are about a foot long-- I understand the plant itself is much taller, so I guess what I get is either tops or young plants. It is apparently fairly young, with no sign of flower buds. Since I only use a couple of stems at a time, I freeze the rest, rolling it up between a couple of sheets of plastic in a single layer so that it's easy to separate frozen. I notice no difference in the cooking properties of the fresh and frozen.)

When the beans are soft, I fish out the epazote (there may be a few leaves/scraps left, but I get all the stems and big leaves). Then I add a little more onion and some more fat and simmer until the freshly added onion is soft and the beans are beginning to break up. At this point I also start salting the beans. Next I puree the beans with an immersion blender. (I'm not too fussy about an occasional bean that doesn't get broken up, but I get them fairly well blended.) This is followed by a period of cooking at a rate somewhat more than a simmer until they're the consistency of refried beans, with occasional additions of small quantities of salt until they taste right. (At this stage, they require pretty constant attention to avoid burning.)

I don't claim any authenticity in this approach, but as I said, I'm satisfied with the result. I've had refried black beans at a number of different places in Yucatecan Mexico, and mine compare favorably, I believe.

Dick in Northbrook, IL

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for all the great responses! I'm looking forward to giving this another go. I especially appreciate all the details people are giving me - it makes all the difference!

.....

I know people who use veg oil, vegetable shortening, etc. Brown lard is good, bacon drippings are even better, and if you use it to fry some chorizo beforehand that's ideal. You're going to need maybe 2/3s as much fat by volume as the amount of beans you're going to fry. (This is not a low-calorie dish. I suspect it was developed by people who needed every calorie they could get in their diet and couldn't afford to waste leftover fats.)

...

Do you mean 2/3 cup of fat for 1 cup of dried beans? My heart muscles are quivering, but my tongue is excited! Also, what is brown lard?

.....

Prepare your fat. Mince and fry onion, garlic and as much chile as your conscience allows in the fat you are going to use. Guajillo and ancho good for this, but again, use whatever you like. You want the fat quite hot.

...

Do you mean fresh chile, or soaked and puréed dry chile?

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Here's what I do. Nothing that will knock your socks off, but it's reliable and easily modified. Which I often do.

Refried Pinto Beans

Ingredients:

1/2 pound pinto beans

3 tablespoons onion

1 tablespoon garlic

1/2 teaspoon cumin seed

1 small chipotle pepper

double smoked bacon

water

14 oz. can of Swanson’s (low sodium) chicken broth

.....

Do you notice the chicken growth make a real difference to the flavour? And does the cumin seed disintegrate in cooking or does it remain whole?

You also mentioned Mexican oregano - is that very different to Greek oregano in flavour?

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...

Do you mean 2/3 cup of fat for 1 cup of dried beans? My heart muscles are quivering, but my tongue is excited! Also, what is brown lard?

By brown lard I meant the aromatic dark manteca (as opposed to the white kind that doesn't smell like much of anything).

Do you mean fresh chile, or soaked and puréed dry chile?

Either works. I use both in the same dish sometimes.

Looking over my previous answer: remove the fried aromatics from the fat once they're well cooked. You can integrate them into the beans at the end, but you don't want to leave them in there to burn.

Also, if you are using a dried chile puree, you might want to cook the onion and garlic first, take them out, then put in the chile puree, then integrate your beans into that with your masher.

I have to insist on the large amount of flavored fat, evaporation of the beans' moisture and mashing by hand. Those things make a huge difference in the final product. You're looking for a very thick consistency that won't spread on the plate and torn up bean skins that offer a tiny bit of resistance on chewing, not a thick soup or a smooth puree.

Besides, this is how I remember it being done when I was a child and everyone knows that's the true measure of how authentic a dish is. :raz:

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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Here's what I do. Nothing that will knock your socks off, but it's reliable and easily modified. Which I often do.

Refried Pinto Beans

Ingredients:

1/2 pound pinto beans

3 tablespoons onion

1 tablespoon garlic

1/2 teaspoon cumin seed

1 small chipotle pepper

double smoked bacon

water

14 oz. can of Swanson’s (low sodium) chicken broth

.....

Do you notice the chicken growth make a real difference to the flavour? And does the cumin seed disintegrate in cooking or does it remain whole?

You also mentioned Mexican oregano - is that very different to Greek oregano in flavour?

Chicken broth instead of just water does enhance flavor. The cumin seed itself kind of disappears during cooking, but adds good flavor. Probably be better if it were toasted (like sesame seeds) before putting in beans.

Mexican oregano is quite different from Greek. Better in bean dishes like this. It's not often available here in Maine, so I just ordered some from Rancho Gordo at the same time I placed my order for beans.

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The way I do it may well be heretical, but here goes.

Dried pintos, half an onion chopped, a goodly scoop of lard (the brown stuff from the Mexican market. Find it, it's magical), put in the water and pressure cook for about an hour. When the beans are done, take out and reserve a bit of the liquid and then (and this is the part that I think may be the most contentious departure from tradition) hit it with the stick blender until it's a smooth, creamy consistency. A little more lard and some smoked salt for that hearthy, smoky flavor. I usually cook the beans down a bit to the right consistency, adding the cooking liquid back if it's too thick (which it seldom is). Great to put in a bowl, cover with cheese and eat with tortilla chips. I used to do a quick soak and normal boil, but I'm a big fan of the pressure cooker's speed.

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  • 8 months later...

These were made as per my prev. posts. I used pintos here (that's what I had on hand) and moritas ("chipotles").

Huevos divorciados (divorced eggs). Fried eggs over fried tortillas, separated by refried beans that are topped with chorizo, each egg bathed in a different salsa.

Nikon012_cr.jpg

Taquitos de chicharron en salsa verde y refritos. With chorizo again, and a simple tomato and red serrano salsa.

Nikon025_cr.jpg

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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Good refried beans should be very loose, not quite but almost soupy. They should be spreadable. Cooked in lard with epazote. No cumin. I use black turtle beans. Add cooked chorizo, crumbled white cheese (anejo or farmer's cheese), chopped tomato, avocado, raw onion, chopped cilantro as garnish--all or just one.

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I personally wouldn't make a pot of beans just to have refried beans. You make a pot, eat some as pot beans, some for a salad, maybe a soup and at one point make refrieds. I love to reinvent the pot.

cooking_-011.jpg

If you use good lard and good beans, you don't need all the other flavorings.

I cook white onions until translucent in lard then add cooked beans and their caldo/pot liquor and the smear the beans and onions into one with a bean masher (machacador). A potato masher is fine but you want to run the masher along the bottom of the pan, mashing the onions and beans into one.

beanmashermachacador3.jpg

At one point, I never returned home from Mexico without a machacador, but I think I have enough now.

If I were doing black beans, I'd follow Janeer's suggestion to to add epazote. If we had access to Oaxacan avocado trees, I'd sub the dried leaves for the epazote.

Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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Would any avocado leaves do, or is it varietal specific, or do the Oaxacan leaves taste different due to terroir?

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Would any avocado leaves do, or is it varietal specific, or do the Oaxacan leaves taste different due to terroir?

Diana Kennedy writes in her recent book "Oaxaca al Gusto" and has written previously that the criollo leaves are to be used - Persea drymifolia. There may be issues with the other variety Persea americana (which Hass is related to) as to toxicity. She notes that the study on toxicity was based on large quantities and suggests using your taste to determine if an avocado leaf will add taste to your dish.

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  • 9 months later...

I do a lot of homemade bacon and since I smoke it with the skin on, I end up with a good amount of smoked pork rind. I will go on record right now and say that this is the secret ingredient to awesome refritos. The smoke and flavor permeating the rind melds very well with pintos or negros, and the gelatin content lends a luscious mouthfeel that is complimented by whatever oil you use to refry the beans. It may not practicable for all cooks, but it is well worth doing.

1 lb pinto beans, sorted, picked over, and soaked overnight.

1 onion, peeled and cut in half. One half copped fine, the other left intact.

5 cloves garlic, chopped fine.

1 sheet smoked pork rind, ~ 5" x 5", rolled around 1 stalk oregano and tied into a scroll with twine.

1 tsp salt

1/8 tsp baking soda

1 cup neutral oil (grapeseed or rice bran oil are good here), lard, or brown lard

1 or 2 chipolte chili en adobo, chopped


Drain the beans and rinse thoroughly. It really does help to reduce gas-inducing substances. Put the beans in a deep pot and cover with cold water to twice the height of the beans. Add 3 cloves chopped garlic and the intact half of the onion. Add the pork scroll. Stir in baking soda. Put pot on burner over medium heat. Do not allow to boil, reduce heat if necessary. Gently simmer for 60 - 90 minutes, or until beans are al dente. The baking soda will help make the beans creamy but still firm.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a steep sided skillet or saute pan. Add onion and chipotle, saute for 3 minutes. Add garlic, saute for 1 minute. Spoon beans into the pan one ladle-full at a time. Mash the beans with a potato masher or machacador. Repeat until all beans have been mashed. Add a spoonful of the cooking liquid and continue to fry until the liquid has evaporated. You can repeat this process too if you want and also to adjust the liquidity of the final product. Season with salt.

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