Frijoles (beans) are an absolute staple in Hispanic kitchens. There are several kinds of beans and they can all be prepared in many different ways. My favorite Mexican beans are frijoles refritos, aka refried beans!
If you are a frequent consumer of Mexican cuisine, I’m sure you have had refried beans many times before. It is very commonly included in meals as a side, along with rice and some fresh lettuce.
Refried beans are traditionally cooked in lard in order to get that signature, delicious refried bean taste. Neutral oil or bacon grease are commonly used instead, but I highly recommend using lard for the best results. If you can’t find it or prefer not to use it, my second suggestion would be neutral oil. I would stay away from bacon grease mainly because the taste is very strong and will overpower the refried beans. They will just taste like bacon, in my opinion.
Pinto beans- I highly recommend starting this recipe off with loose dry pinto beans instead of canned. You can definitely get canned to save some time, but fresh of course will taste better. I soak my beans over night to make the boiling process faster. You can also use black beans!
Spices & Herbs- Salt and cumin are absolutely necessary to get the right flavors. Epazote is an herb that is traditionally used in refried beans, but they can be difficult to find especially fresh. If you can’t find it, Mexican oregano is a good substitute.
Aromatics- Garlic, onion, and jalapeno. The jalapeno is optional- I think it adds good flavor but do not be worried about it being spicy.
Lard– No one likes to hear this an one of the ingredients in a dish but did you know that it is actually better for you than most other fat alternatives? If you want an authentic result, I highly recommend picking up some lard to make your frijoles. It makes such a difference.
Pro tip: if you’ve made carnitas using lard, you can strain and reuse it for refried beans! I believe this is the secret to a lot of restaurant frijoles that are amazing. You should only reuse lard once or twice, and I don’t recommend making refried beans with carnitas lard if you’re planning to pair it with carnitas. Also keep in mind that the lard is seasoned, so be careful how much seasoning you add to the beans once you start frying them.
Water- don’t throw out the water after draining the boiled beans! A lot of really good flavor is cooked into this water and we will be using almost all of it to refry the beans.
Ways to enjoy refried beans
I made these frijoles specifically for Tortas Ahogadas (Mexican sandwich), but there are SO many ways to enjoy them!
One of my favorite favorite ways to eat refried beans is in a burrito. My go-to breakfast is a bean and cheese burrito with avocados, sour cream, and my favorite hot sauce Tapatio.
An ALL TIME FAVORITE meal of mine is a chile relleno burrito with refried beans! This is something that I usually make if I have leftover chile rellenos from dinner the night before. I will have a recipe for that very soon. It is SO good!
Other common ways of eating refried beans is as a side to an entree, on a tostada with cheese, on nachos, or as a dip. The possibilities are endless!
Authentic Refried Beans (Frijoles Refritos)
- 1 cup dry pinto beans or black beans
- water for boiling the beans
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp mexican oregano or epazote
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 3 garlic cloves crushed
- 1 small onion 1/2 whole, 1/2 finely minced
- 1 jalapeno finely chopped
- 1/4 cup lard or neutral oil
- salt, Mexican oregano, and cumin to taste
- Pick out the bad beans and throw them out. Rinse and soak your pinto beans over night for a faster cook (optional).
- Drain the beans and put them in a pot deep enough to boil. Add 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp epazote or Mexican oregano, 1/2 of an onion, 3 crushed garlic cloves, and enough water to cover the beans by 2-3 inches.
- Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat.
- Cover and reduce the heat a tiny bit for 1 hour and 30 minutes. You may need a little more time if you did not soak the beans over night. It should be a gentle boil.
- Check on the beans about half way through and add HOT water as needed. You want to maintain a water level of about 1 inch above the beans from this point on. Adding too much water will dilute the bean flavor we want.
- The beans are ready when you can easily smash them between your fingers (careful! they are hot). Strain the beans, onions, and garlic but don't throw out the bean water. Or you can use a slotted spoon to transfer the beans to the frying pan later and pour the bean water from the pot to save dishes.
- Heat some lard (or oil) in a skillet over medium-low heat, then add the finely chopped onions and sauté until fragrant and almost browning. If using neutral oil or lard, season the onions with a pinch of salt. Do not add the salt if you are reusing lard used to make carnitas (this is already seasoned).
- Add the chopped jalapenos and sauté for another minute.
- Increase the heat to medium high, then add the drained pinto beans.
- Begin smashing the beans. I'm use a potato masher, but you can use the back of your spatula or whatever you have that can get the job done.
- Reduce the heat to medium after a minute. Keep smashing until you reach your desired consistency, while simultaneously adding the bean water in increments as you smash. I added back all of my bean water in 3-4 batches.
- Try the refried beans and add salt, cumin, and/or Mexican oregano to taste. I usually end up adding about 1/8 tsp each to get the perfect flavor. Note: you may not need to add any seasoning if using carnitas lard, since it is already seasoned with these spices.
- Once you've reached your desired consistency, remove from heat. I like my refried beans smooth but with little visible little chunks. Some people like it super smooth or chunky- there is no wrong way! Use an immersion hand blender to make it smooth like this one.
- Top with your favorite cheese and enjoy 🙂