For years and years, I thought that refried beans were just an ubiquitous substance that automatically made its way onto the plates in most Mexican restaurants. They always had the same mushy, pureed texture, with a few small lumps here and there. They also almost always tasted the same, which was kind of bland. I sometimes thought that their main purpose was to coat your tongue so that you wouldn’t notice if the rest of the food was bad.
It wasn’t until a trip to New Mexico several years ago that I realized that all refried beans are not created equal, and that they don’t all come out of an Old El Paso can. You see, that was the first time I ever ate “real” refried beans – the way they were intended to be eaten. Mr. SGCC and I were in a little neighborhood cantina in Santa Fe where we experienced one of the best meals of our lives. It’s funny. I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the place. But, I can still almost taste those incredible tamales, albondigas and chicken bathing in the most wonderful and complex, velvety mole negro. And, the refried beans. Oh, those beans! Redolent of smoke and spice, the thick, chunky mash of pink beans and onions were a revelation. Needless to say, they bore little resemblance to that insipid stuff I had experienced before.
The bad news is, that I didn’t ask for the recipe. The good news is, that I think I’ve come up with my own version of refried beans that comes pretty darn close to the ones I experienced in Santa Fe. And, it’s easy people! Really, really easy! So easy that you can make them at home in under thirty minutes (and never have to open one of those icky cans again).
So, what are you waiting for? Go fry some beans!
Frijoles Refritos de SGCC
3 tablespoons pork lard or bacon fat
1 large sweet onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 16-ounce cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/4-1/2 cup chicken broth or water
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt to taste
Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the lard or bacon fat. When it melts, reduce the heat to medium and add the onions. Sauté onions until soft and tender, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and continue to sauté about 1 minute more.
Add the beans to the skillet in three batches, mashing them as they cook with a potato masher after each addition. You can make then as chunky or as smooth as you like. I like them more on the chunky side. Keep stirring them so they don’t stick in the skillet.
Stir in just enough broth or water to keep the beans moist. Add cumin, smoked paprika and season with salt. Mix well.
Serve as is or with shredded cheese on top.