Long before I knew that the quality of a margarita was paramount to the the success of a Mexican restaurant, there was this little place in Memphis called Molly’s La Casita. There may still be a Molly's downtown on Central Ave, though I am not sure if it is open today. We would frequent the Park and Mendenhall location before it shuttered in the early Ninties.
Like the routine loving child that I was, I would always order the exact same thing at Molly's, the Tres Tacos. Three crispy tacos of seasoned ground beef with Mexican red rice and the most ridiculous refried beans imaginable. I can still imagine the taste, but I could not ever find a replacement to them. A nice dark brown color, they were the right balance of meaty and salty. They were ever so slightly pasty but the beans still held their shape creating a balance of texture. They did not reduce to a soupy one note sauce as many lazier restaurants' beans do. Molly's sublime legumes defined refried beans in my mind and virtually all my subsequent encounters with the side dish have been met with abject disappointment.
Recently I have unlocked the secret to these beans, these pearls of protein. Lard.
Yup. Sorry to burst your bubble. You were expecting paprika maybe? Lard is the secret of the best refried beans imaginable. But lard needn’t scare you. It is not any higher in fat than butter or olive oil. And many people are surprised to learn that lard is highest in monounsaturated fats, though it does contain some saturated fat like all fats do. Lard from ethically treated pastured animals is also high in Vitamin D. It is not a fat to be feared. But lard is tricky. Although it is an animal fat many manufacteurers hydrogenate lard to make it more shelf stable. And hydrogenation is bad. So few people are buying and cooking with lard these days that it is much better to render your own. Any butcher could get quality leaf lard for you. I order mine from Lewis-Waite Farm. It freezes well and the rendered fat keeps in the fridge indefinitely. And while my recipe isn’t necessarily authentic (I don’t know, maybe it is! I just kind of made it up), this warm-your-bones side dish is a great accompaniment to a lean meat dish!
2 pounds of dried pinto beans, or a combination of pinto and kidney beans
Salt to taste (I used around 1-2 tablespoon)
1/4-1/3 cup of rendered leaf lard
Optional sliced onion, garlic, cumin, paprika and black pepper
Stay with me...the following recipe is longer than it needs to be. But I am specific for a reason.
Start by soaking your beans. It takes times. Properly soaked beans not only digest better, allowing your body to access the nutrition better, but proper soaking and long slow cooking helps to de-gas those beans as they work their way through your tummy. The Weston Price Foundation has a wonderful article on exactly how to soak beans called Putting the Polish on Those Humble Beans In it Catherine Czapp schools us on the proper temperature for your soaking water and why that is. I will attempt to recreate that here.
Start by placing a medium sized pot of water on the stove stop, about 10-12 cups. Take your beans and place them in a collander. Wash them thoroughly and remove any dirt, sticks or rocks. Transfer your beans to a large bowl. When the water begins to form tiny bubbles on the bottom of the pot but BEFORE it begins to boil, take the pot off the heat and pour it over your beans. Although the water is hot, you should be able to touch it without burning your hand. If it feels like a comfortable warm bath your water is not hot enough. If your hand burns upon touching the water, it is too hot. By the way, please use your common sense. Please DO NOT stick your hand in a pot of boiling water. I am absolutely not advocating that.
Once you've added your hot water, stir the beans and allow then to soak. Drain the soaking water and repeat the process 3-4 times over the course of 24 hours. After a day of soaking they will feel springy like fresh, uncooked beans.
Drain the final batch of soaking water and place them in a Dutch oven or large pot. Cover them with cold water and put them on to boil. To the pot place add half a sliced onion, one to two minced garlic cloves, paprika and cumin, a good tablespoon of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. If I was a better blogger I would have written down all the measurements. But I don't really measure as I cook. Oh well, I will make that as a goal for NEXT year. Let the beans come to a boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer. As they cook you can add more water if you need. You want to avoid a roiling boil or else the beans will cook too fast and the beans will be GASSY! Give yourself several hours to cook them. A crock pot is also a wonderful thing to use to cook the beans slowly. But whenever I use use a crock pot to cook beans I always end up finishing them on the stove top....but more on that later.
When the beans are cooked through and very soft, taste them for seasonings. Add more salt as needed. Remember you can always add more, but you can't take any away. Turn the heat on higher to evaporate any water. The higher boil will also begin to break up the beans. Stir the pot and they will break up more. That is what you can't get from a crock pot. The crock pot gets the beans soft, but it doesn't break them up. That's why I always finish them on the stovetop. When they are the right consistency, kinda pastey kinda spreadable but not destroyed, heat up a good heavy pan. And throw in your lard.
Melt your lard. When it gets hot enough to fry, spoon in your beans slowly. Stir them around to incorporate the fat. Add more water or adjust the seasonings.
And there you have it, refried beans. Meaty. Salty. Amazing with tacos. Not slightest bit vegetarian. Use the leftovers to make chili, or throw them over eggs with hot sauce for fantastic huevos rancheros. Or just eat them over rice with sensual slices of avocados. But please please please whatever you do, don't substitute the fat. It is lard, or it just isn't as good.
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