Tuesday, November 12, 2013

House-Warming Fried Beans

Is there anything more comforting than home-cooked Mexican food? Maybe, but not much comes to mind. As a kid growing up in the Northeast, Mexican food used to mean crunchy ground beef tacos from a blue cardboard box (which I admittedly still enjoy when I go home), but these days the thought of Mexican food conjures up the sensations of creamy beans, pungent cilantro, and rich, spicy shredded pork.

So when Julia and I began planning the food for our housewarming party on a crisp November night, the process didn't take very long. Julia suggested we make the pressure-cooked carnitas from Modernist Cuisine at Home—now a party standby of ours—so I decided to make my favorite fried beans and have my first try at some corn tamales.

I first made fried beans as a grad student, after moving out on my own to California. After all, the sacred duo of beans and rice is budget food that's remarkably comforting (there's that comfort word again). The beans were always passable, but never remarkable. I often tried to enliven them with fresh chiles, ground cumin, excessive amounts of garlic, and the inevitable sriracha—but they never stood out. Somehow they'd always end up tasting like…well, sriracha. Go figure.

But everything (ok, maybe not everything, but the beans at least) changed when I got my hands on a copy of Rick Bayless's Mexican Everyday, a book which I wholeheartedly recommend. What was the secret that I'd been missing? Some magic blend of spices? Nope. It was lard. Don't roll your eyes, it's true. No bullshit. Turns out, the lard1 adds an incredible richness (duh) and what I can only describe as a subtle sweetness (not so obvious). Other than the lard, the beans are flavored only with onion and garlic, super-simple. They're great unadorned as a side-dish, can team with Mexican rice as dinner in a pinch, and are heinously good when slathered on a few tortillas and topped with a fried egg and some pickled jalapeƱos.

Fried Beans

adapted from Rick Bayless's Mexican Everyday

1 lbDried beans (I usually use pintos)
  1. Combine together, bring to a simmer, and cook until beans are tender, about 1½-2½ hours.
  2. Mash beans to desired consistency.
2½ qtsWater
1 mediumWhite onion, chopped
4 tbspFlavorful lard
6 clovesGarlic, minced
  1. Stir in garlic and lard to taste, cook for a few minutes longer.
  2. Adjust seasoning as needed and simmer or add water to reach desired consistency.
2-4 tbspFlavorful lard

Clean and rinse the beans. Add them to a suitably-sized pot along with the water, onion, and 2 tbsp of the lard. There's no need to soak the beans since you'll mash them up at the end anyway—why do the extra work2? Bring to a simmer and cook for 1½-2½ hours, until the beans are tender. Once they're cooked, mash the beans with a potato masher or wooden spoon until they're at the consistency you like. Personally, I like to leave some whole beans for textural contrast. Add the garlic, the rest of the lard, and about 1 tsp of salt. Simmer for a few minutes, then taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Simmer longer to thicken the consistency or add more water to thin it.

  1. When I say lard, I don't mean that shitty flavorless stuff in a box that might as well be crisco. I mean the tasty stuff, which you should be able to find at any Mexican grocer or decent butcher. 

  2. Unless you want them to cook quicker, in which case you're best-off investing in a pressure cooker anyway. 

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