Mexican Refried Beans

Refried beans are pretty much a staple in our house. We eat a lot of mexican food and it is a must have, side dish to every meal. When we get low, I always make up another big ol’ pot of them, because running out, is never an option.

A new blogger friend recently asked me for the recipe for how I make mine, and I was more than happy to oblige!

My Father in law is from Mexico, and when he and my Mother in law got married, they lived in Durango, Mexico, which is also where my husband was born. They later came back home to the States, but while they lived there, my Mother in law perfected the Michel family recipes, and brought them back with her. When I met Rob, she was patient with me and taught me so many wonderful mexican food recipes that I have treasured, and have become staples in our home. I am so thankful that I have these to pass on to Judah, and his family one day.

Isn’t it great to have traditional recipes that are passed on from generation to generation in your family? I now have a huge variety of mexican dishes from Rob’s family, and german/european dishes that were passed down from my side of the family, to continue to make and keep those wonderful tastes alive. It’s so comforting to make these things. It reminds you of the people who taught you how to make them, and it’s a heritage to pass to your children to keep those traditions going.

First, totally off topic, I have to show you two beautiful dishes that my Mother in law gave to me. This first one is very special to me. It’s a serving dish that was given to Rob’s grandmother in Mexico for her wedding day. Her initials are painted on the bottom and I absolutely love it. It is my most cherished gift from my inlaws, and I proudly use it when I make a full on, authentic mexican meal. I like to think Rob’s grandmother would have been proud that her beautiful dish is still used today, within her family, and will continue to be passed along when I can’t use it any longer.

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This second dish, also from my inlaws, was a gift to them from a sister in law in Mexico. I love the color and the hand painted artwork. There’s something so beautiful about serving a meal in beautiful dishes, and having your table look just as appetizing as the meal itself. I’m very thankful for these little treasures. They are simple, beautiful, and three generations later, still going strong.

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Now, back to the beans, man! (I can be so long winded).

Ingredients for cooking of beans:
1 Pound – uncooked pinto beans
1 heaping tablespoon minced garlic
7-8 cups of water to start (Add more as needed with steam loss)
1 uncooked ham hock (or salted pork or uncooked bacon) (to be removed after cooking)
1 tablespoon salt

Ingredients for refrying of cooked beans:
1 tablespoon of bacon grease or olive oil
Cooked pinto beans with reserved water from cooking – 50/50 mix
More salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Queso or similar cheese for topping when served (you can also melt your cheese into beans while in the pan)
Cilantro for topping if desired

I start with my pot. I bought this mexican bean pot when Rob and I had first gotten married. We bought it from a mexican grocery store and I loved it the minute I saw it. This style is widely available in stores and online. It’s the big one with the flat bottom. Many other styles are smaller with a rounded bottom, but I like the big one because I make a lot of beans at once. Go big or go home, baby!

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You don’t have to go out and buy a bean pot however. You can use any stove top pot with a lid to boil pinto beans. It just won’t look as authentic, but I promise it will taste the same! You might just need to monitor your pot a little more in the beginning to check for sticking on the bottom, depending on what you are using. If you did want to buy one of these pretty girls, I can guarantee no burning on the bottom. It’s never happened to me once. And believe me, I have forgot about my simmering beans on the stove, many a time!

Then, go buy a big bag of pinto beans. This is a four pound bag, and I usually use a whole pound at a time.

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Recruit your littlest helper at home to put the beans in the pot. Judah likes to count as he does this. It’s painfully slow to get an entire pound of beans in there, one little bean at a time, but it sure is cute. I admit that when he’s not paying attention, I might put in big handfuls. But don’t tell him.

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That’s about a whole pound in there.

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Then I like to have my tiny helper add a heaping tablespoon of minced garlic. You don’t have to do this, and most authentic mexican recipes will not call for it, but it’s how I was taught, and I love the added flavor.

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Then you want to fill up that pot about ¾ full of water. It seems like a lot, but you want that much liquid as you lose a lot with the steam loss, and it’s going to get nice and thick.

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Transfer it to the stove, with the lid on, and turn it up to high to get a rolling boil. This can take a while because of the size of the pot.

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This is also when you want to add the ‘piece de resistance’! (I know this is a mexican recipe blog, but I tend to think in french phrases more often than not). You need to put in more flavor, which means either a ham hock, salted pork or if you don’t have either of those, then some uncooked bacon slices work as well. The saltiness from the pork makes the magic in a pot of beans. I have made it without a few times because I didn’t have pork of any kind in my house but needed to make them anyway. They turned out fine, but you do lack a little flavor. It makes a difference. (When your beans are done, you just remove this. To me, it’s not that appetizing for how it looks, but the flavor is jam-packed!)

Once you have a nice rolling boil, turn your stove down to low/simmer.

Cover that pot and sit on the couch and read a book. This is going to take a few hours. It’s time consuming but incredibly easy. It’s like a turkey at Thanksgiving. Every year we all stress out about getting our turkey just right, but once you clean it and stuff it full of the seasonings, you really can just check it every once in a while and let it do it’s thing. It’s the easiest part of the meal.

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I would say that this quantity of pinto beans, in this type of pot, takes about 3-4 hours on a simmer. I like to make these on a day when I’m home and doing things around the house. I set my timer on the stove for every hour or two to remind me to look inside the pot, give it a stir and check it for the water levels. You will lose some, and if you see that it’s getting low, take a cup of water at a time and just add a little more. You need the water to keep it from burning and getting mushy.

At three hours in, and after checking it twice, here is how the beans are looking. They are getting nice and soft, the skin is starting to come away and the water is still high, and has turned a reddish brown clay color, and has gotten a bit thick.

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Now here’s the big debate! Salt – and when to add it. This is totally up to you. I was taught to put the salt in the pot in the very beginning, but then I watched a mexican cooking show one time that said that putting salt in the water at the start makes the beans tough and they have to cook longer. So I tried it, and I feel like it made a difference. So I add my salt about three hours in once they are nice and soft already. I put in about 1 tablespoon. Be careful not to oversalt at this point. You can always add more later!

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About an hour later, after 4 hours of cooking the beans, they are so soft and perfect. Here’s where I divide and conquer. I let them cool for a while and then because this is such a large quantity, I freeze them at this state. I take portioned freezer containers and spoon out the beans and liquid and freeze them for when I need them. And I label them. Because I like to be overly organized and I’m always satisfied when I see my little containers in our stand up freezer all stacked neatly with labels. I have organizational issues. 

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If you do this, just thaw them out when you need them, and follow the next steps for refried beans just like you would if they were fresh from the pot.

Get your frying pan out and get it heating on a medium to high heat. Traditionally, you want to use bacon grease in your pan for frying them. It’s a beautiful flavor. But if you don’t have that, then olive oil will work just great. I used oil this time because it’s what I had, and obviously, it’s much healthier than bacon grease. Obviously.

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Add your beans and some of the liquid to the pan when it’s nice and hot.

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I use a potato masher to smash them all up, but I do like a mix of texture. Not totally smooth. I like to see some beans in there too.

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Your pan should be bubbling away. This is when I add some pepper, and I taste it for salt.

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This is the consistency I like. Thick, but a tiny bit runny. Does that make any sense? I don’t like thick and pasty. But I also don’t like a thin soup. Just in the middle. But you decide!

You can add grated cheese at this point, just before you serve it. I sometimes do, but I had some freshly crumbled queso, so I wanted to use that at the very end when I served it.

I warmed up some tortillas on a tortilla pan.

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Put the beans in a bowl with the queso and a little cilantro, and used the warmed tortillas to scoop up those wonderful beans. So delish.

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This was the incredibly long version of one of the simplest recipes I make on a regular basis, but after a conversation I had with my friend, I wanted to be extra long winded about it, a talent I possess, and take up four times the amount of time it should take to explain it to you. I don’t do point form. I can’t even text properly. I paragraph text. I’m from a different era.

– The Homesteaders Wife

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