Previously I shared my process for making a pot of Mexican beans, today we are going to turn those beans into frijoles refritos. (In case you missed the recipe please read it here.)
First we begin with what the words frijoles refritos actually translate to: The English translation is refried beans, but that is not correct because the beans aren’t actually re-fried or fried twice. (How many of you were wondering why beans would need to be fried twice? Haha!) Let’s break it down frijoles means beans and refritos means well-fried. In English the prefix “re” is used to express an action done twice, in Mexican-Spanish we commonly use it for emphasis. So frijoles refritos actually means very well-fried beans.
Spanish lesson aside just know that you won’t have to fry your beans twice. But please don’t ask me how or who invented frijoles refritos — I don’t know, all I know is that homemade refried beans will rock your world.
Canned vs. Home Cooked
The first thing you need to know about making refried beans is that starting with freshly homemade beans is THE way to go. I know many people like to use canned beans, but if you want the Mexican taste skip the can and reach for the pot. Think of all the money you’ll save too, dried beans are cheaper than canned. My biggest prejudice against canned beans is the tin taste they impart on the dish. You can drain and rinse canned beans but I find that taste lingers regardless. So before we proceed make sure you have boiled some beans.
The second thing we will discuss is the fat used to do the frying. The traditional fat, and the one that gives Mexican refried beans its unique taste, is manteca de cerdo or pig lard. This is something to be aware of when you’re eating out, as the more traditional Mexican restaurants will use lard. I think it is important to ask so that you know if it is lard or perhaps oil that they use in making their beans.
Even when I ate meat I preferred not to cook with or eat lard and have always instead used preferred to use vegetable oils or butter when called for.
Side story for you: I once received hate mail from a self described “small town American woman with some knowledge of Mexican food” basically calling me a fake Mexican because I don’t use lard in any of my cooking. Since she obviously knows more about being Mexican than I do, next time I won’t forget to carry a packet of lard along with my sombrero, tequila bottle, leaf blower, and burrito, as I’m running and yelling “arriba, arriba!!”.
When I make refried beans my preferred fat or oil is olive oil. Yes, I know this is not a traditional Mexican ingredient but it is what I use in my kitchen because of health reasons. You may of course use any other oil you desire. No judgment here. The additional benefit of choosing an oil over lard is that this, of course, makes the dish vegan friendly.
Under NO circumstances would I suggest using butter or margarine to make refried beans. I once had the misfortune of tasting the results of that (awful) combination. Ah, the things you’ll eat just to be a good friend. Stick to oil!
Give Those Beans Extra Flavor!
Just as I mentioned in my recipe for making frijoles de olla, here too additional flavourings can vary greatly from one cook to another. You can fry the beans along with some onion, garlic and/or chiles of your liking. Spices like ground cumin, black pepper, or chopped tomato, or even chorizo can be used for an extra boost of flavour! If you cook them with chorizo you can use the oil for frying the beans. If you have boiled the beans in just water and a bit of salt, I would highly suggest adding some extra flavourings to your refried beans. Experiment until you find the combination your family loves. I personally like to leave in the onion, garlic and epazote that were used to boil the beans, but I always remove the Serrano pepper and instead use a couple/few dried chiles when I’m making refried beans. Again it is all up to your tastebuds.
I happen to like a bit of texture in my frijoles refritos, some like theirs smoother. My advice is to mash until you like the texture. Another aspect to the texture is the thinness or thickness of the beans. I’ve noticed that here in Playa restaurants tend to serve their refritos a bit more runny than I’m accustomed to, they still taste delicious though. I think the consistency should be made according to what the beans will be used for. For example, if you’ll be using the refried beans as a side maybe leave them with a thicker constancy; if they will be used to spread over a tostada or bread roll, then I would suggest a medium consistency to make spreading easier. Again, this is just simple advice so feel free to cook until you like the consistency.
If you over-cook or the beans begin drying out then add some of the boiling broth or a little bit of water to bring back to the consistency you want. If the beans are too watery just cook down to thicken up.
- one batch of homemade pinto beans
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil of choice
- 2-3 dried chiles de arbol or dried/fresh chile of choice, optional
- pinch of sea salt if necessary
- After cooking the pinto beans, drain but reserve about half a cup of the broth. If you'd like you can remove the onion, garlic, epazote and Serrano used to boil the beans, I like to keep the epazote, onion and garlic. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, once it's hot add the dried or fresh chiles and cook just until they brown or begin to blister -- this happens quickly so be ready to proceed. Next add the drained beans -- be careful because it will splash, allow to fry for about 3 minutes. Next add about ¼ cup of the water and then begin mashing the beans until you achieve the desired texture. The broth will help with the mashing and you'll need to add a little bit of the broth to help you achieve the texture you desire. Continue to "fry" for about 5-8 minutes or until they have the consistency you want. Remember to adjust the consistency to your needs by cooking longer to thicken or adding more broth/water to thin out. Taste and add salt if needed. Use as desired.
•veggie chorizo can be added for extra flavour if desired. First cook the chorizo through, in the same pan and without discarding the oil cook the onion (if using) and beans.
•Spices such as ground black pepper, ground cumin, achiote, oregano may also be used. Add them as you're mashing the beans.
Congratulations, you’ve now made refried beans like a Mexican! Now you are ready to serve them alongside some tacos or enchiladas, on tostadas or tortas or you can blend leftover refried or boiled beans to make sauce for enfrijoladas. However you choose to eat your refried beans, I hope you enjoy them. Buen provecho!