Karl’s Refried Beans

For this Sunday I was going to use a recipe I adapted from Chelsie Kenyon, but my local Mexican market did not have the epazote, which is a key ingredient to her dish. Off to the internet.

Most recipes for refried beans I found tended to be very simple. Some used only beans, fat, onions and salt. The main two distinctions between recipes seemed to be: 1) What kind of fat do you use? and 2) Do you add any other ingredients beyond the basic four?

Karl’s Mexican Rice and Karl's Refried Beans

Karl’s Mexican Rice and
Karl’s Refried Beans

For your fat: Do you use lard (a traditional, but unhealthy ingredient) or bacon fat, butter, or some other oil? Olive oil is vocally rejected by many as being too strongly flavored and unstable. For me lard and bacon fat was out, because of Jan’s dietary restrictions and preferences. Butter just seemed to north of the border. I finally settled on corn oil as being culturally consistent, but also a healthy choice. However, corn oil is not something I usually keep on hand. (Under my sink I have Canola, peanut, grape seed, two kinds of olive oil and Pam for everyday cooking, but not corn oil.)

One thing that most of the recipes had in common was limiting any additions to only one or two extra. Refried beans should be all about the beans.  If it does not enhance, or worst covers up, the bean flavor it should not be in this dish. I decided to add only some garlic and Serrano chili. But I also decided that I could deepen these flavors with technique. Instead of putting all of the extra ingredients in at the same time, I would cook half of them with the beans to mellow their flavors through long cooking. The rest I would add at the end to give a sharper kick.

Refried beans should not a soup, but it should not be too dry either.  Chelsie’s technique of separating the beans and fluid when you begin to mash the beans gives you far more control over the consistency of the final dish.

Karl’s Refried Beans


2 cups uncooked pinto beans
4 Tbs. corn oil (separate uses)
1 medium onion, diced fine
1-2 Serrano chili, diced fine (separate uses)
4 cloves garlic, minced fine (separate uses)
salt to taste

1 cup cheddar, course grated


1. Check the beans for debris and rinse them well. Note: Do not pre-soak your beans or the final dish will come out gray and unappealing.

2. Add 2 Tbs. of oil and the onion to a medium Dutch oven. Cook the onion over medium high heat until they start to caramelize well (7-10 minutes).

3. Add half of the Serrano chili and garlic and cook until they start to brown (3-4 minutes)

4. Add the beans and 7 cups of water and bring the Dutch oven to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to a slow simmer for 2 hours. Stir occasionally and if water level gets low, add more boiling hot water.

5. When beans are extremely soft, drain beans, conserving the liquid in a measuring cup. Put the beans in a separate bowl.

6. Rinse the Dutch oven, add remaining corn oil and heat over medium heat. Cook the rest of the Serrano chili until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.

7. Add the rest of the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

8. Add about 1/2 cup of the beans back to the pot and mash with a potato masher. If the mixture seems thick, add about some of the cooking liquid from the beans.

9. Continue to adding the beans and mashing them. Adding the bean liquid as necessary, the beans should be moist but not soupy.

10. Add salt to taste.

11. Remove to the beans to a serving bowl and garnish with cheddar. Put extra cheddar on table to sprinkle over the beans as individuals choose.

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Filed under Side Dishes, Starches

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