I just had a revelation last night about something most of you may have already known. Sometimes one little thing can completely change the way you make something as classic as refried beans—and that one thing for me was pork fat. Accept no substitutes (unless, of course, you are a vegetarian). That fat can be freshly rendered lard, bacon grease, or sautéed salt pork—but pork it must be. It rounds out this dish giving it meaty flavor without requiring much meat to do so.
This is sort of a mishmash of a few recipes I found in Saveur, Cooks Illustrated, and Chowhound. They all had little quirks, but the essential process is the same. Cook pinto beans in pork fat. Some added water, while others used chicken stock. Some started with canned beans, other mandated starting with dried. I actually had the foresight to cook my own dried beans this time, but the canned kind will definitely work, too. Basically what I learned is that it’s a personal preference, and additional ingredients can be added as needed. The below recipe mentioned is how I garnish a big bowl of refried beans.
- 1 pound cooked pinto beans, drained
- 2 tablespoons lard
- 1 onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 jalapeno pepper, diced (optional)
- Cilantro, chopped (optional)
- Lime juice (optional)
Add the lard to a large iron skillet over medium heat. When it has melted toss in the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, or until very fragrant.
Dump in the beans along with the water. Let it cook for a few minutes, and then begin the mashing process. You can use a potato masher or even a large wood spoon. Mash to the desired consistency (I like mine a little lumpy).
Season with salt, and any or none of the following: cilantro, jalapeno, or lime juice.