I love Mexican food but do not eat it that often. I know it can be made healthy but the stuff I love the most tends to be pretty decadent. A great example of this is refried beans. These beans are commonly served as a side dish at Mexican restaurants and often they are nothing more than a bland accompaniment. However, in some cases, I have had fantastic refried beans and the secret is simple. True refried beans are cooked in lots of fat. The best are cooked in lard or bacon fat. This is what I call a true Instant Pot refried beans recipe, decadent and delicious.
My favorite refried beans come from a small hole-in-the-wall taco shop in my neighborhood, Rodrigo’s. I have been coming to Rodrigo’s Taco Shop since I moved nearby in 1995 and I still think there beans are my favorite (they also make great carne asada and shredded beef). Rodrigo’s does not have a website but they have plenty of positive Yelp reviews. I am not positive that they use lard in their beans, but I would bet they do.
Of course, lard has an extremely bad rap. Many Mexican restaurants advertise that they do NOT use any lard. For example, Rubio’s, a San Diego based fast food chain famous for fish tacos, describes its beans as “no fried” beans. Supposedly this is a healthy version of refried beans. The problem is, in my opinion, these beans are awful. A regular serving of these beans may only have 120 calories, but the green juice I drink beats it in both taste and nutrition.
Recent indications are that lard, in reasonable amounts, is not that bad for you. As this article in Prevention magazine notes, lard is lower in saturated fat than butter. It is also higher in heart healthy monounsaturated fat and is a great source of vitamin D. It should be noted that all lard is not created equal. Natural lard should not have hydrogenated oil. Some commercial lard does contain hydrogenated oil, but it should be listed as an ingredient. We use Farmer John lard which we think is fairly pure. One day we may try making our own as suggested by the Prevention article.
So refried beans are basically cooked beans that are fried in lard (or some other oil). After frying, the beans are mashed or blended to the desired consistency. I have developed a recipe that adds some spices, including some level of spicy heat. Everyone I have served these beans are agree they are delicious. For some people that have only had canned or bland restaurant refried beans these are a revolution.
I should note that I cook beans in a pressure cooker. This is because usually I thought it took hours to soak and cook dried beans. Our pressure cooker has given us nothing but problems and is currently on its way out. I have found from other recipes that the beans come out fine if they cook at a simmer for 2 hours. Basically this is what happened the last time I made this recipe as, after two hours, I could not get the pressure cooker to come to pressure. The beans basically cooked in an unpressurized pressure cooker and were fully done.
UPDATE: We have found a much better pressure cooker: The Instant Pot
I am not sure how much the quality of the beans makes an impact. I do know you want to use dried beans, not canned beans. We simply buy a one pound bag from our local grocery store. You do need to make sure you carefully rinse and wash the beans. They almost always have some weird form of debris.
We like our beans with a thicker consistency so I use a potato masher. You can also add them to a blender a smoother consistency. I am going to try and do that next time, just to see what everyone thinks. The other big decision is how much water to add as you fry the beans. I have found 2 cups for a pound of beans is about right. However, adding this is something you can test to get the right taste and consistency. The same is true for salt, which is not added until the end. I start with a teaspoon of salt but usually end up adding more for my salt loving family.
We serve beans as a side dish with Mexican meals. Most commonly it is a must for our carnitas dinners. However, they also are great as a bean and cheese burrito. I do not claim this to be health food. Of course, we eat lots of healthy meals as part of our regular diet. Our Mexican dinners are special occasions when we let loose and enjoy some delicious decadence.
- 1 lb dried pinto beans
- 1 onion roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic roughly chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 cups water
- ½ cup lard
- 1 onion minced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 jalapeno or serrano pepper seeded and finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
Wash beans in strainer. Add to pressure cooker with water, bay leaf and roughly chopped onion and garlic. Pressure cook on high for 35 minutes and let it depressure naturally (about 15 minutes).
In skillet saute onion, garlic and peppers in lard. Add beans and 2 cups of bean water. Add cumin and salt and start mashing with potato masher. Cook about 5 minutes until desired consistency, adding more water as necessary. If you want smoother beans use a blender. Salt to taste.
Instead of a pressure cooker, these beans can be simmered for about 2 hours until tender.