I love refried beans! Don't you?
We had refried pinto beans at least once a week my entire upbringing. They are such a staple in our family nary a week goes by without my mother making a batch.
Great with Mexican food (obviously), refried beans also go beautifully with a juicy steak and a big serving of salsa.
Why Are They Called Refried Beans?
"Refried" doesn't mean the beans have been fried twice. The word comes from the Spanish name for the dish—frijoles refritos. In Spanish "refritos" means "well fried".
To make the beans you have to cook them in water first to soften them. Then you fry them in a pot or skillet with fat and seasonings.
What Kind of Beans Are Best for Refried Beans?
Traditionally, for Mexican style refried beans, pinto beans are used. But black beans are also wonderful prepared this way too, as are cranberry beans.
In a pinch, I've even used white navy beans to make refried beans for tostadas. I just add some chipotle powder to them for seasoning. But usually we use either pinto beans or black beans.
Pressure Cooker vs. Stove Top Beans
There are two basic ways of initially cooking the dried beans:
- Using a pressure cooker, which takes about a half hour to cook the beans.
- On the stovetop, which can easily take 2 to 3 hours to cook the beans.
Since we make beans so often, we use a pressure cooker. It's the first step of making the meal — put the beans in the pot, cover with water and cook while preparing everything else. By the time the beans are done, so is the rest of the meal.
If you don't have a pressure cooker, no worries! We have included directions for both methods.
Tip: Old Beans Take Longer to Cook
Note that although beans have a relatively long shelf life, the older they are the longer you'll have to cook them to get them to soften. If you have dry beans that have been sitting around for more than a year, they may be tough. In this case, you might want to add an eighth of a teaspoon of baking soda to the cooking water. That can help soften the beans.
How to Cook Refried Beans
Once you cook the dry beans, you strain them and cook them with onions and fat in a skillet, mashing them while they cook. That's the "fried" part of refried beans.
You can also simply strain canned whole beans and mash them and fry them. Two cups of dried beans cooks to the equivalent of three to four 15-ounce cans of pre-cooked beans.
How to Store Refried Beans
Once made, the beans will last about 3 to 4 days in the fridge. To reheat them, just add more water and heat them up on the stovetop. If the beans smell at all bad or have developed mold, discard them.
You can freeze the beans, either before or after you mash them. Let them cool to room temperature, then put them in meal-sized portions in either heavy duty freezer bags or covered, air-tight containers. They'll last for several months frozen. If dry upon defrosting and reheating, just add more water and oil.
Ways to Use Refried Beans
Our favorite way to use refried beans? Along side a juicy steak with some green chile tomato salsa. The combination of the steak, beans, and salsa is fantastic!
Refried beans are a standard accompaniment to Mexican dishes. We use them:
Watch This Traditional Refried Beans Recipe
To Soak or Not to Soak the Beans
Soaking dry beans before you cook with them has some advantages. Consider these benefits to soaking beans before cooking with them.
- Beans have phytic acid, a chemical that can cause digestion issues. This acid is the reason beans have the reputation for causing gas. Soaking them removes many of those phytic acids.
- Phytic acids are also considered anti-nutrients. They can keep your body from absorbing nutrients like phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc—all of which are found in beans.
- Soaking beans will help them cook evenly and cook more quickly.
NOTE: If you are pressure cooking your beans, you don't need to pre-soak them.
More Great Mexican Side Dish Recipes
This recipe gives instructions for making refried beans from scratch, starting with dried beans. You can also easily use canned beans, in this case use three 15-ounce cans of whole pinto beans, and skip to Step 3, rinsing and draining the beans and adding to the pan with a little water in Step 4.
If you have access to the Mexican herb epazote, use a large sprig of epazote in place of the oregano. Not only is epazote the traditional herb used with these beans, it has anti-gas properties to make the beans easier to digest.
2 1/2 cups dry pinto beans (about 1 pound or 450g)
2 teaspoons salt, less or more to taste
2 teaspoons dried oregano, or a large sprig fresh oregano
1 onion, halved
2 tablespoons bacon fat or extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste
1/2 cup bean cooking liquid or water
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder, optional
Crumbled cotija cheese or grated cheddar cheese, optional
Rinse the dry beans:
Rinse the beans in water and check for and remove any small stones, pieces of dirt, or bad beans. Remove any beans that float in water.
Cook the beans on the stove top or in the pressure cooker:
Stove Top Method
Put beans into a pot and cover with at least 3 inches of water—about 3 quarts total for 2 1/2 cups of dry beans. Add half an onion, salt, and oregano. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to simmer, covered, for about 2 1/2 hours.
The cooking time will vary depending on the batch of beans you have. The beans are done when they are soft and the skin is just beginning to break open. If the beans are still hard after 2 1/2 hours, add 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda to the pot and cook a half hour or more longer.
Pressure Cooker Method
Put beans into a 4 quart or larger Instant Pot or pressure cooker with a 15 pound weight. Add 8 cups (2 quarts) of water. (Make sure you never fill a pressure cooker with water more than 2/3 of the way up the pot.) Add the onion, salt, and oregano.
Cook for 30 to 35 minutes on high pressure, then let the beans cool naturally for 10 minutes before releasing the pressure valve. The beans should be soft and the skins barely breaking open.
If the beans are still quite hard, add 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda and bring to pressure again for 10 minutes.
Note: If you are using a standard pressure cooker (not an Instant Pot), allow the pressure cooker to cool completely before opening. If there is resistance when attempting to open the cooker, do not open it, allow it to cool further. Follow the directions for your brand of pressure cooker. (See How to Make Fast No Soak Beans in a Pressure Cooker.)
Either method: Strain the beans from the cooking water, reserving about a cup of the cooking water. Remove the remnants of onion or oregano sprig if using.
Sauté the onions in fat:
Chop the remaining half an onion. Heat the bacon fat or oil in a wide, sturdy frying pan (not a flimsy nonstick) on medium high heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent. (You can do this while the beans are cooking.)
Add the beans, mash them in pan:
Add the strained beans and about a 1/4 cup of the bean cooking water or plain water to the pan. Using a potato masher, mash the beans in the pan, while you are cooking them, until they are a rough purée.
Add water and season:
Add more bean water or plain water to desired level of creaminess and to keep the fried beans from getting too dried out. Add more salt to taste. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of chipotle chili powder, if using.
When the beans are heated through, top with crumbled cotija cheese or shredded cheddar cheese (1/2 cup) to serve (optional). (You can also stir in slices of cheddar to melt into the hot beans.)
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 6g||7%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||4%|
|Total Carbohydrate 52g||19%|
|Dietary Fiber 13g||46%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 6mg||29%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|