If frijoles de la olla is the omnipresent dish in the Mexican kitchen, refried beans seem to be the expression of the same principle on every plate served at Mexican restaurants. Although this might not always be the case at home, a side of refried beans can be a very tasty solution to the challenge of assembling a meal that is both nutritious, and budget friendly. While checking heirloom recipes for refried beans, I found that they all have their own tweaks and turns, but are very consistent about two points: 1) Whole cooked beans are mashed in a pan over heat while 2) being fried in lard. Modern recipes might instruct to first process the cooked beans in a blender, usually with the addition of water or broth from the beans; substitute vegetable oils for the lard; or add chopped peppers or onions. Other recipes add milk to the mix, for a creamier texture, although this preparation is called “frijoles maneados” – “handled beans”, a more regional dish from Northern Mexico.
Linguistically, the definition of the term “refried” – refrito, in Spanish, lists two possibilities: food fried more than once, or food that has been fried in excess. I asked several friends and relatives what they thought it meant for refried beans, and it was pretty much a tie between being “very well fried” or “fried several times”; my dear friend since middle school told me about a version called “seven times fried” which means that after frying and mashing the beans, there are six more repetitions of adding lard to the pan, while the paste is scraped and further mashed with a wooden spoon. This could be achieved in one or more days, since it is also common practice to warm up leftovers in a pan with a little extra fat, making them re-fried, as well.
Black beans are popular along the coastal Mexican states, whereas the Northern states favour the lighter bayo, canario and pinto beans; many people choose to use the blender, for speed and to obtain a very smooth consistency. I usually cook pintos or black, and personally like the “maneados”, mashed in the pan with a little fat (I use vegetable oil) and creamed with the addition of milk; they result in a creamy paste, but with some texture, left from mashing the beans by hand.
Refried Beans (Handled) –
Frijoles refritos (maneados)
2 cups cooked beans, drained (“de la olla” are the best)
2 tbsp vegetable oil (or lard)
¼ cup milk (cow’s or cashew), or more, as needed
Salt to taste
Warm up the fat in a large frying pan until very hot, but not smoking; I chose vegetable oil to keep the dish vegetarian. Reduce heat to medium and add beans; the fat should make the beans sizzle. Cook for about a minute, being careful to stir constantly to prevent burning the beans. Start mashing with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher, while adding milk slowly and carefully. Continue mashing until a smooth paste is achieved; I usually start with the potato masher, and then switch to a spoon to be able to stir the paste, as I finish mashing:
Add more milk, if needed to reach desired consistency, and salt to correct seasoning, to taste. Serve hot with a sprinkle of crumbled fresh cheese and corn chips (totopos), either on a plate at the centre of the table (see photo at the top of the post), as a side on individual plates (restaurant style), or use in all sorts of corn dough preparations (antojitos – “little cravings”). For example, a couple of years ago, satiating my hunger and wanderlust was easy in Mexico City’s international airport, when I ordered this huarache* at the food court, while waiting for a connecting flight: