Refried Pinto Beans

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Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner and for me that means one thing--a darn good excuse to enjoy some good Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.  One of the staples of these cuisines is refried beans.  A common misconception is that the beans are cooked twice, referring to the English definition of re-- preceding the fried.  But in Spanish, the re-- is from the word "refrito", meaning "well-fried".  However one interprets the meaning, it certainly does not impact the wonderful flavor and comforting texture.

For a good authentic flavor, I like to start the dish by rendering the fat from a bit of salt pork.  It really gives the dish a deep flavor without overpowering the bean flavor.  Most markets carry a 12-ounce package of salt pork, but if you can't find it I would recommend using lard instead.  (One tip--my recipe only calls for 3 ounces, so I cut the 12-ounce chunk into four pieces, wrap the remaining three chunks in plastic wrap, place them in a freezer-safe bag and freeze until refried beans are on the menu again.)  Some people might suggest using bacon.  While I have a strong love for bacon, in my opinion it adds too much smokey flavor.  

To flavor the beans further, I sauté onion and garlic and throw in a little ground cumin.  I love the earthiness that the cumin adds.  Once the beans are thoroughly cooked through, I mash them to desired consistency which is usually a chunkier purée.  As the beans set up, they will thicken.  If I am making them as a topping for nachos or as a filling for burritos and tacos, I leave them as they are.  But when I am serving them as a side dish or as a simple chip-and-dip, I thin the beans with some chicken broth, starting with a tablespoon at a time.  Garnishes can be versatile as well.  You can use sliced or diced jalapeño, chopped green onion, or even some crumbled queso fresco.  All are well received.

Printable Recipe

Refried Pinto Beans
serves 8-10

3 ounces salt pork, cut into lardons
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
3 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, undrained
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Kosher salt to taste
Chicken broth to thin as needed

In a large saucepan, render the salt pork over medium heat.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the salt pork.  Reserve the rendered fat in the pan, about 3 tablespoons.  Add the onion and sauté until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.  Add the beans and their liquid and the cumin.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Uncover the beans and stir.  Cook, uncovered, for another 10 minutes.  Using the tines of a large fork or a potato masher, mash the beans to a coarse purée or to desired texture; stirring as you go.  (To serve as a side dish, I like my beans with a thinner texture.  To serve on nachos or as a filling for burritos, I like them with a thicker texture.)  As the beans sit, they will thicken.  Thin with 1 tablespoon of chicken broth at a time to reach desired consistency.  Season to taste with kosher salt.  Enjoy!

Source: The Galley Gourmet


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