Although Italian is truly my favorite cuisine, I would never deny my great love for Mexican food. And I’m not just talking Taco Bell here. Real, down to earth, Mexican food. Like you would get from an authentic restaurant- a couple of tacos nestled between some rice and a nice helping of refried beans. That’s what I am talking about. Oh and enchiladas swimming in sauce… ugh, don’t even get me started! What I am trying to say is that authenticity is something that can be hard to duplicate, particularly with Mexican when you have all the short-cut “kits” at the supermarket. And of course, canned refried beans. I am always surprised when I eat at a Mexican restaurant because the beans are always so different in texture from the thick pasty mass you get in a can. There’s just so much more moisture and flavor to them. I was curious as to how difficult it would be to make your own, so I challenged myself to do so. And guess what? Now I don’t think I will ever buy them from the can again!
Refried beans are beyond easy to make at home. The only difficult task you might run in to is finding salt pork, but maybe you’re vegetarian and don’t want to go that route anyways, in which case I would recommend adding a good dose of oil or butter at least. I, myself couldn’t find salt pork, however I wanted the fat from the meat and so I just used a piece of pork belly. All salt pork is, is cured pork belly. CURED. Not smoked! There-in lies a great difference between salt pork and bacon. Do not substitute bacon, the flavor will be vastly different. So I chose the pork belly because I knew I could get the flavor of the fat from it even if I couldn’t get the signature saltiness- I just added extra salt to reach the perfect taste. For those of you that don’t know what pork belly looks like here it is below. It is basically a thick slab of what looks like bacon. Oh, and did I mention how super cheap it is? I got a big 8 oz piece for $1.37 or something like that.
Now let me just give you a quickie on how refried beans are made. You puree some pinto beans with chicken broth to the proper consistency. Then you sauté the salt pork to render its’ fat. You don’t want to keep the salt pork in the beans so you need to remove it. Use the fat to sauté chopped onion, chiles, garlic, and spices. Finally, you simply add the bean puree and cook the mixture until your desired thickness. SO easy!!! I cooked mine down pretty far. Next time I will keep them a bit more loose, like the authentic kind. Plus they thicken up in the fridge. Either way they came out perfect and much better than anything you can buy in a can! I used it for some Chicken Chimichangas- ammmmmazing!
- ½ cup low sodium chicken broth
- 2 (15 oz) cans pinto beans, rinsed
- 1 Tb vegetable oil
- 3 oz salt pork, rind removed, chopped fine
- 1 small onion, chopped fine
- 1 jalopeno chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced
- 1 poblano chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced
- ¼ tsp salt
- 3 small garlic cloves, minced
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 Tb minced fresh cilantro
- 2 tsp lime juice (optional)
- Process broth and all but 1 cup beans in food processor until smooth, about 15 seconds, scraping down bowl if necessary. Add remaining beans and process until slightly chunky, about 15 pulses.
- Heat oil in nonstick 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add salt pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until fat has rendered and pork is well browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to small bowl and discard (you should have about 2 Tb fat left in the skillet).
- Increase heat to med-high and add onion, chiles, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cumin and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add beans and stir until thoroughly combined. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are thick and creamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in cilantro and lime juice, if using, and serve.
adapted from “The New Best Recipe” By Cooks Illustrated