Learn how to make authentic refried beans just like from your favorite Mexican restaurant, but better! The recipe includes stovetop, Instant Pot, and canned beans instructions.
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I love refried beans, especially when they’re homemade. They’re creamy, filling, and a staple in Mexican cuisine. They’re also healthy, very versatile, and are traditionally made with my favorite type of bean, the pinto bean!
Pinto beans are one ingredient that my parents always had in the house when I was growing up. We’d have huge sacks of dry pinto beans in the kitchen pantry that would last a few months each. Each sack would weigh 50-100 pounds!
Now that I have a family of my own, that is a tradition that I want to keep alive. So on the agenda for today is learning how to cook pinto beans and transform them into refried beans!
What You’ll Need
- Pinto beans: Refried beans are traditionally made from dry pinto beans, which gives them a creamy, smooth and buttery flavor and texture. If you don’t want to cook dry pinto beans from scratch, I included instructions for using canned pinto beans in the recipe card below.
- Water: This is used to cook the dry beans. During the cooking process, the water gets infused with all the wonderful flavor from the beans and the other ingredients, and really becomes a star ingredient on its own – a delicious bean broth!
- Onion and garlic: Adds flavor to the beans when they’re initially cooked from dry pinto beans, as well as during the sauteing and mashing process!
- Bay leaf: Add a subtle but delicious flavor to the beans.
- Mexican oregano: This is a staple ingredient in Mexican cooking that has a distinct flavor compared to the typical dried oregano found in most grocery stores. If you can’t find Mexican oregano near you, however, regular dried oregano will do just fine.
- Fat: I used olive oil to saute the vegetables and beans, but you can also use lard like is traditionally used or any other cooking fat you prefer.
- Jalapeño: This is optional if you don’t want to add a touch of heat.
How to Make Refried Beans
Step 1: Start by rinsing and cleaning the beans, discarding any that are shriveled or split, and any small rocks that may have made their way into the batch.
Step 2: In a large pot, combine the beans, yellow onion, cloves of smashed garlic, bay leaf, dried Mexican oregano, kosher salt, and enough water to completely cover the ingredients, plus an additional 3 inches.
Step 3: Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 2 hours until the beans are soft and tender. You may need to add more water as needed.
Step 4: Once the beans are finished cooking, place a large bowl underneath a strainer or colander and carefully pour the beans and the cooking liquid into the strainer to save the bean broth. Discard the bay leaf.
Step 5: In a large pot or skillet, add some oil (or your preferred cooking fat) along with some chopped onion, jalapeño, garlic, Mexican oregano, and salt. Cook for about 5 minutes until the onions are soft.
Step 6: Add in cooked beans to the skillet and cook for a couple of minutes before mixing in ¾ cup of the reserved bean broth.
Step 9: Mash the beans using a potato masher for a chunky texture, or puree them using an immersion blender or regular blender for a smoother texture. You may need to add more of the reserved cooking liquid if they’re still too dry.
Step 10: Add salt if needed, top with crumbled queso fresco or cotija cheese, and serve!
Pressure Cooker vs Stove Top Beans
If you have a pressure cooker, you can make these refried beans in a fraction of the time! I recommend using this Instant Pot Refried Beans recipe. The instructions are also included in the recipe card below.
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can still cook the beans on the stovetop, but it will take a little longer. Both options are great and equally as delicious!
Using Canned Beans
If you don’t have time to cook dried beans, you can substitute cooked canned beans instead.
I recommend using 3 to 4 (15-ounce) cans. Pour the canned beans through a strainer or colander and save the liquid to use for mashing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Mexican refried beans are traditionally made from mashed pinto beans and seasoned with some spices and herbs. However, this recipe also works with black beans or white navy beans.
Refried comes from the translation of refrito, meaning to ‘fry well,’ so while the term refried is in the name, the beans aren’t actually fried twice – just once.
Ways to Use Refried Beans
- On the side with authentic Mexican rice
- As a topping on sopes, tostadas, and huaraches
- As a filling for bean burritos and gorditas
Storing and Freezing
To store, place in an airtight container and place in the fridge for up to 5 days.
To freeze, allow the beans to cool completely before placing them in a freezer bag or freezer-safe container. These beans can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Photos by Erin Jensen of The Wooden Skillet.