Why It Works
- By offering choices, including bean type, fat type, and mashing techniques, this recipe makes it possible to get exactly the style of refried beans you want. (Read the accompanying article to learn more about how each component affects the final dish.)
- Starting with dried beans and cooking them with flavorful aromatics like herbs, onion, and garlic results in a much more delicious final dish.
Refried beans, or frijoles refritos as they're known in Spanish, are like the mashed potatoes of Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking: they're a versatile, addictive, and delicious side dish, perfect with rice, smeared onto tacos, or served a million other ways. While a relatively simple dish, this master recipe allows you to choose exactly how you want to make them, whether chunky or smooth, cooked with pork fat or vegetable oil, or made with pinto or black beans.
- 1/2 pound dried pinto or black beans
- 2 sprigs fresh epazote or oregano (see note)
- 1 medium white onion, 1/2 minced (about 1/2 cup), 1/2 left whole
- 2 medium cloves garlic
- Kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons lard, bacon drippings, vegetable oil, or butter (see note)
In a large pot, cover the beans with cold water by at least 2 inches. Add herb sprigs, the whole onion half, and garlic cloves and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until beans are very tender, about 1 to 2 hours. Season with salt. Drain beans, reserving bean-cooking liquid. You should have about 3 cups of cooked beans; if you have more, measure out 3 cups of beans and reserve the rest for another use. Discard herb sprigs, onion, and garlic.
In a large skillet, heat lard, bacon drippings, or oil until shimmering, or butter until foaming, over medium-high heat. Add minced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and lightly golden, about 7 minutes. Stir in beans and cook for 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of reserved bean-cooking liquid. Using bean masher, potato masher, or back of a wooden spoon, smash the beans to form a chunky purée; alternatively, use a stick blender to make a smoother purée. Thin with more bean cooking water until desired consistency is reached. If refried beans become too wet, simmer, stirring, until thickened; if they become too dry, add more bean-cooking liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed. Season with salt and serve.
Bean masher, potato masher, or stick blender
Epazote, a Mexican herb, can be found at Mexican grocers. To add other flavors to the refried beans, try sautéing a pinch of ground cumin or fresh chilis with the minced onion, or puréeing toasted dried chilis into the mixture. Different cooking fats give different flavors to the beans: lard is one of the most traditional, and it adds a porky, funky depth to the beans that's hard to beat; bacon ups the ante even more by layering in a smoky flavor; vegetable oil keeps things neutral so you can really enjoy the flavor of the beans and the aromatics; and butter is decadent and rich without being overpowering.