I sometimes believe my love of beans came from the can of refried beans my family would use for tostada nights in the late 1960s and 1970s. I loved the power of creating my own tostada, which at that point would not have had a hint of a fresh vegetable but oddly loaded with hot sauce. It was all good but it was the refried beans that made me a lifelong fan of beans.
I don't think there is a lot of debate about the best way to refry beans. White onion is wilted in freshly rendered lard and then beans and plenty of bean broth are added before mashing. It's perfection.
Lately, I've been needing only a small amount of refried beans for this or that dish and I've simply just stuck my immersion blender into a pan of hot beans and their broth. You know what? It's also excellent. Maybe not as perfect at the orginal recipe but really good.
I asked Lisa in our test kitchen to do a side-by-side comparison and this is what we found.
If they beans are well-seasoned and made with onions and oil, even olive oil, you just have to heat them up in a pan and then blend. If they're a little dry, add some more bean broth. If they're a little wet, keep cooking them on a moderate heat and they'll thicken in no time.
If you just have plain beans, we'd recommend sauteeing some onion in olive oil or lard until soft, adding the beans, then use the immersion blender.
It's really hard to beat as a snack or an element in a more elaborate dish.
We used our new-crop pintos, but we've made refrieds with lots of different beans. In Jalisco and Michoacan, the beans are more than likely Mayocoba. We made them with Rio Zape last week and the resulting purple color was a wee bit weird but they were delicious. They have a slightly thicker skin but the texture benefitted from the difference.
We also experimented with the more traditional method of using a hand masher (machacadora) and we all agreed, these were best. "A touch of abuela," said Lisa and Marco, who took these photos.
Lisa gets ready for action.
Now the interesting thing is that I always do this in a cast iron skillet and push the beans and their liquid into the soft onions, moving across the pan. You can see, Lisa is mashing regionally and really, I think this is more efficient.
The texture and flavor was superior with the machacadora but in a pinch or a lazy mood, the immersion blender is fine and acutally comes closer to the canned refried beans I remember from my youth.
My confession is that I can't leave any leftover. Knowing that there are refried beans within my proximity means I am unable to relax until I've consumed them. This is why for me a smaller amount blended can be better than the full on treatment.