Friday, March 19, 2010

Refried Bean Odyssey

I lived in Southern California for two years and during that time, Joe and I managed to eat a lot of Mexican-American food. There was one hole-in-the-wall spot in Manhattan Beach that we were a little crazy for (and still are!). They had the best refried beans and rice that accompanied every dish they served. I would usually neglect the burrito or whatever I had to pounce on those beans first. They were perfect.

Well, in order for me to get my fix, I thought I could try and make refried beans myself. Not by opening a can and dumping them into a frying pan (but I will say, that in a pinch, those are pretty darn good too). When I worked for the cookbook author, her housekeeper had a recipe for refried beans (which is now in the cookbook - so you won’t be getting that recipe!). She was El Salvadorian and she said that beans are different everywhere you go. Her version of course started out with soaking the beans and then cooking them. Then heating up a little oil, and sautéing some chopped onions in the oil. She then removed the onions, and dumped in her beans and mashed them up with a little salt. She told me I could put the onions back in if I wanted to, but most people didn’t. I asked her if people every used canned beans, and she laughed. I said “no, really. Do people ever use canned beans?” (hoping to alleviate some of my guilt) and she said maybe but they weren’t very good cooks who did that. Ouch.

I usually tried making beans that way, but they never turned out as fabulously as when she made them for me. So while I was in California, one of my coworkers told me her family’s recipe for beans. She said to crumble up some chorizo and cook it with a jalapeno, then take them out, add the beans and mash. Then add the chorizo back to the beans and season them as necessary. You have to add more oil at this point - hence the RE-fried- to thin it out and make the texture more smooth. She also suggested adding some queso fresco to the mashed beans to give it a slightly creamy feel.

She made the beans a few days later and brought them in to work for me to try, they were amazing. I was sold. But, I don’t make those beans every time we have refried beans because of the significant caloric content that they have. But for special events, or to impress people, I will make them.

So last night, I brought the beans over to a pot-luck Taco night at a friend’s place. I think they were pretty good, and judging by some of the portion sizes the beans were being consumed in - I’m guessing other people thought so too.

I tried taking amazing pictures, but it is rather hard to make smashed up sausage and beans look anything more then, well, smashed up beans and sausage.

Judi and Carmen’s Refried Beans

For the chorizo - size, flavor and quality can really depend on where you buy this sausage. So use your best judgment about how much chorizo you want in there. Just don’t put in more chorizo then there are beans (I would say use about ½ to ¾ the volume of sausage to beans)

1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained (or 16 ounces, dried beans, soaked overnight and simmered until tender)
½ small onion, roughly diced
1 link chorizo, casing removed and crumbled
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced in half (pith and seeds removed if you want your beans with less heat)
Olive oil

1. Add about 2 Tb of olive oil to a frying pan and heat until shimmering. Add diced onions, chorizo and jalapeno. Sauté until the onions are translucent and the chorizo starts to brown. Add more oil, if the chorizo soaks up the first amount. Remove the mixture from the pan, but try to keep in as much of the cooking oil as possible.

2. Add the kidney beans and sauté until the beans start to shed their skins and split. Then mash the beans - you can use a potato masher but I like to use the bottom of a heavy glass. Once mashed add the chorizo/onion mixture back into the pan along with any liquid that may have accumulated with them.

3. Add a few more tablespoons of oil, and stir together. The mixture should start to look soft and matte. You don’t want the beans to stick to the pan, but you do want them to brown a little in the oil. Add more oil, if you think it needs it. (this does take a lot of oil, so don’t be skimpy with it). If you have the queso fresco, add it just before you take the beans off the heat. Season with salt and serve.

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