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Jul 11, 2008 11:19 AM

proper refried beans

Maybe refried beans are the Mexican equivalent of polenta, I don't know. But just as polenta runs along a spectrum from (to put it strongly) pudding to cornbread (with the former being what you find more commonly in northern Italy), refried beans, at least here in Denver, range from near-paste to something like baked beans in terms of consistency.

Is one style more traditional than another, more correct than another? Is it a regional difference? Etc.


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  1. Refried beans are not difficult to make, but I have seen the same thing here in Sacramento. I attribute it to the cook not caring all that much about the finished product. When I make beans (the way my mother and her mother made them) I follow the recipe below (until this year, none of these recipes were written down, so you're getting the benefit of at least four generations of Mexican cooking experience). Basically the "trick" to good refried beans is to realize that the beans will set up once they cool, so you don't want to cook them to the "paste" stage, otherwise you'll get something like the cornbread you mentioned. I'm thinking if you get beans that look baked beans, then all you're getting is cooked beans, not refried. Refried beans, at least in my experience should look like pudding that won't set (they should run a little on the plate if hot, but if allowed to set in the pan, they they won't run. Try the recipe for yourself, and let me know what adjustments you'd make...

    Cooked Beans

    2 – 3 cups dry pinto or cranberry beans
    enough water to cover by 2 inches
    salt to taste

    Bring about 5 cups water to boil in a 3 quart sauce pan. As water is coming to a boil, add two large pinches of salt. Leave the water to come to a boil.

    Place the beans in a colander or mesh strainer. Rinse under cold running water and pick through for small stones and beans that appear bad (deep wrinkles, off color, holes, etc.). When done rinsing, put beans in boiling water, bring water back to a boil, then set to simmer and cover, cooking until beans are tender (times vary, depending on the bean, pinto beans cook faster than cranberry beans).

    Check the beans every 30 minutes for three things: 1) Doneness of the beans (sample one, there should be no resistance when you bite into it, but is should not be mushy/mealy, use your judgment – al dente pasta is OK, but al dente beans make for difficult refritos), and 2) check the water level to make sure there is at least an inch of water covering the beans (slightly more in the beginning process, as the beans will absorb much of the water as they cook). 3) Check the saltiness of the water, is should have the slightest hint of being salted; if too salty, add more water, if it tastes like just “bean water” add another large pinch or two of salt.

    When the beans are done, turn off the heat and leave covered until ready to refry.


    In a hot 9 or 10 inch skillet, add enough canola oil to cover the bottom (about 1/8th inch), heat oil through.

    With a slotted spoon, pull as many beans as you can from the saucepan, allow to strain, then add to the oil (it will sizzle and splatter slightly so be careful) add another two or three spoonfuls of beans and mash with a potato masher or a large fork. If it looks like the beans are too dry, add some of the water from the beans, a little at a time (I usually add a couple of tablespoons just to add flavor and reduce the amount of oil I use). If the beans look too wet, or if it seems there is too much oil, add more beans, a half spoonful at a time.

    As you continue to mash the beans, about 2 minutes, they should begin bubbling (imagine hot lava bubbling up), and should still be slightly “runny”. Turn off the heat and let stand. The beans will set up as they cool, so don’t cook them until they are firm, or they’ll be too stiff to be appetizing.

    1 Reply
    1. re: gsshark

      Pretty standard way of making good beans except for the canola oil. I prefer making them with bacon drippings. Just a couple of large tablespoons will suffice and it adds a wonderful flavor to the beans.

      I also like to put a little crumbled queso blanco on the top when serving.

    2. I agree with gsshark and bkhuna. Refritos should be soft, almost runny when plated.

      When we are in Patzcuaro, I use Peruana beans and fresh lard. The Peruanas cook up to a light pinkish tan color and have a wonderful flavor. In Denver, I skip the lard. Very hard to find fresh lard here. I use bacon grease instead.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Pampatz

        You don't have to be in Patzcuaro to cook those delicious Peruana beans. Goya carries them dried, they call them Canarios, or Canary beans; but they're Peruanas. And they taste just as good by another name, unlike Juliet's rose. (Or is it Romeo's? Anyway!)

        1. re: BerkshireTsarina

          I mentioned this before: the US marketing and then demand for canario displaced over 200 traditional bean varieties in the Cajamarca, Peru, area.

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            Who is eating the peruano beans in the US? I would assume immigrants from where the bean originates? I've only ever seen those beans in a market that serves an immigrant population. I don't live in an upscale area. Maybe they are available and popular in upscale places.

            In fact, I just saw them the other day, when out looking to see if they carried the mysterious Flor de Mayo. The peruano seemed slightly expensive, though beans have been rising in price, annoyingly. I'd never seen a peruano before, and I almost bought them to try out. I was caught by an attack of frugality.

            1. re: saltwater

              Most Peruanos in the U.S. are actually grown in Mexico where it has become a very popular variety in the last decade.

              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                Yes, I think the package that I had examined was from Mexico. It wasn't one of the standard suspects (goya, la preferida, etc.). It is interesting how food from one place becomes popular in another place, and then ends up being sold to those people when they move somewhere else. Then someone like me, who has never seen them before, walks into the market and possibly tries them because they are on an end cap. Food is just plain cool.

              2. re: saltwater

                The canario came from northern Peru and is now grown in many areas. I've never eaten canarios in Peru. It is relatively unknown by Peruvian or Andean consumers.

                Cajamarca is a center of origin of beans. In 1995, my team collected, planted out, identified, got local names and characteristics, assessed agronomic properties of 218 separate beans (from 1,658 samples); and started a program of in situ (local) germplasm conservation. The local switch to canario production was the doom of the traditionals.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Ground zero for certain types or strains of beans, and then they spread around the planet and diversified over time? And now the source region is all ploughed under to one variety? Economics makes strange choices.

                  I've never thought about food choices with respect to beans. I am more trained to think about it with seafood.

                  1. re: saltwater

                    We should get together. I'm not a marine biologist or marine ecologist, but my heart is also with seafood.

                2. re: saltwater

                  "Who is eating the peruano beans in the US?"

                  I am !

                  This is my bookmark.

          2. 2 Cents....

            There are regional or cook differences... I disagree with any implication that they should only be done in a certain texture. In Mexico they run the spectrum, and I have had delicious versions in every style... as well as mediocre & bad ones.

            I think the most important things about Refritos.. are really two:

            1) No crappy Pinto Beans. Flor de Mayo, Flor de Junio, Bayos, Mayocoba etc., recent harvest beans are essential.

            2) Excellent, flavorful, artisinally rendered lard.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              Good point about the texture. My wife has always make them a little on the dry, firm side and I never thought much about it. However, my preference has shifted in the last few years and I now prefer to have them a little chunkier and looser.

              If I could get freshly rendered pork lard, I'd use it. A little goes a long way for enhancing the flavor.

              1. re: bkhuna

                I want to second EN's assertion that there a lots of ways to make refritos. Diana Kennedy has a recipe in one of her early books that shows a version of refritos that is completely solid and rolled into kind of an omelet shape. Question of taste.

                If you cook pork at all, it is pretty easy to render your own lard. I save the little scraps of pure fat when I trim pork chops etc. in a bag in the freezer. Once I have enough, I put it in a frying pan, cover with water, and simmer until I have rendered the fat. Chill in fridge, lift off the manteca. Much better than commercial version.

                Also, if you have a good Mexican Market that makes carnitas or chicaronnes, you can often buy a small tub of manteca for practically nothing. This is browned, so has more limited use, but still delicious for refritos. I don't tend to make refritos, just frijoles de olla, since the last thing I need is more fat in my diet, but they sure are good.

                1. re: dkenworthy

                  I have a question about 'rendering fat'. I thought when, for example, I cook bacon and save the drippings, that this was rendering fat. You mention covering the fat with water and simmer until the fat is rendered.

                  Is this 2 ways of doing the same thing or is what I'm doing when frying bacon not rendering fat? If it is 2 ways of doing the same thing, then why would you use water in the process?

                  1. re: jackrugby

                    DK is referring to the process of rendering fat from the Fat Back of the Pork rather than from Bacon... they are different animals (well not really)... Fat Back is for making large quantities of lard, with a clean (if pork flavor can be discribed as clean) pork flavor.

                    Bacon drippings are a great product but that lard takes on the bacon flavor (smokey, molasses etc.,) which is great but no always wanted (i.e., Chocolate Macademia cookies or for deep frying).

                    Another major method used is to collect the drippings from Carnitas & Chicharron making which will yield a tan, very flavorful lard... with some limitations on frying over high heat.

                    Yet another method is the Asiento (bits of browned pork skin & flesh, mixed with lard also leftover from Chicharron making)... this is heavenly when smeared on warm tortillas, sopes, toasted bread etc.,

                    1. re: jackrugby

                      both are rendering fat.

                      i often use the water method with duck fat. protection against burning

                      1. re: jackrugby

                        You can render fat from any part of the pig in either of two ways: dry or wet. Wet rendering is done with boiling water or steam, and results in a white, relatively pure lard with a neutral flavor and a high smoke point. Dry rendering is done in an oven, skillet, or deep fryer; no water is involved in the process, so the fat browns a little (or a lot). The color is darker, the flavor is more pronounced, and the smoke point is lower.

                        So the reason you wet-render lard is because it produces a more versatile (but less succulent) end product. I put 20 pounds of pig fat (free when the meat dept. at the local grocery puts pork shoulder on sale) on a meat rack in a big pressure canner over a quart of water, steam it at 15 pounds for an hour, and strain and freeze the results.

                2. unless you have issues with pork, lard is essential. and that's not any pork fat, but what is properly rendered which is actually much healthier than it sounds.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: hill food

                    I learned from my cook in Mexico to save the fat from chorizo and substitute it for lard in refried's and frijoles charros. Works for me. And refrieds BEG for a habanero sauce; El Yucateco works if you abhor vinegar the way Eat Nopal does. I make my own, with minced habanero and white vinegar.

                  2. Traditional frijoles refritos can run the gamut from a mashed pasty consistency to that having a more whole bean consistency. That being said, more traditionally speaking about half your pot of beans should be mashed and the rest left in a whole bean state. Now as to 'flavor' if you're talking tradtional, there to is a couple of ways to go. Just salting isn't going to cut it, unless you just like salty beans. And neither is canola oil. Lard and or bacon grease is a must. Other flavor boosters include garlic powder and chicken bouillon powder.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: crt

                      Agreed that the textures can vary.

                      My husband (who prefers a more pasty consistency) also is sure to add epazote when he can find it.

                      1. re: Cachetes

                        Had never heard of epazote, until your post. Interesting spice. I linked to a couple of 'Ads by Google' at a Mexican food web site and read up on it. Here's one where your husband can purchase it online from. Hope this helps him out with the 'when he can find it' problem.


                        1. re: crt

                          Wow - thanks! He loves all things spice, so he'll love this find.

                          1. re: Cachetes

                            I wish I liked epazote- it's too disgusting for words to me, and I NEVER say that about herbs, usually.

                            That said, grow some- it will come up like a weed every year from now to kingdom come- only have to not let it go wild, because it stinks and will always leave you with a crop next year. If you like it.