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Refried Beans: Prefixes and Protein
Refried beans add creamy, savory heft to many plates. Learn a little about their origins with Groupon’s look at the dish.
Refried beans are not fried twice. This common misconception stems from the Spanish language’s somewhat loose usage of the prefix re-. While it can mean “again,” it can also simply mean something like “a lot.” In the case of frijoles refritos, this means that “well-fried beans” is a better translation than “twice-fried beans.”
Although they might only be fried once, the cooking process for refried beans has three basic steps. Chefs first begin by simmering, stewing, or pressure-cooking the beans for one to two hours, long enough to soften them. (Of course, home cooks can take the easy route and start with canned beans or borrow some cooked beans from their local taqueria.) Pinto beans are the traditional choice for Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, although black beans or pink beans are viable substitutes. To add flavor, some chefs add onion, garlic, cilantro, bay leaves, or other seasonings to the boiling mixture. Hand-mashing the softened beans into a paste is the next step. To finish the dish, chefs fry or sauté the purée in fat—traditionally lard, although bacon fat and vegetable oil also have become common in more-recent decades.
When finished, the beans are ready to be used as a standalone side dish or as an ingredient in anything from burritos to tostadas. The recipe originally may have arisen as a way to reuse the previous day’s dinner: “Leftover beans lose their flavor unless fat is added when reheated,” notes folklorist Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert in The Good Life: New Mexico Traditions and Food.