Thursday, January 10, 2008

Frijoles de la Olla...A Big Pot o' Beans!

Frijoles de la Olla con Queso Fresco y Tortilla
(Classic Mexican Pot Beans with Fresh Mexican Cheese and Tortilla)

These beans are some of the best you'll eat. I'm not kidding. The original recipe came from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen. If you love authentic Mexican food, and you can find this cookbook (there are just a few used copies on amazon) you should buy it. I have modified his recipe somewhat, so you will get my recipe. Guess it will be a "secreto" no longer...

And, before we begin, I feel like I must say this. Do not fear the lard. I'm serious. Lard is what gives these beans the best authentic flavor they can produce. There may not be another smell in the world that smells quite as good as onions fryin' in lard, you'll see. (perhaps the scent of the nape of a young boy's neck, but honestly it's a toss-up). Just remember, it's not like you're going to eat these each and every day for the rest of your life. Although after you taste them, perhaps you might be tempted. Lard is your friend. I'm not kidding. It will treat you and your taste buds well. (and if you don't eat them every day, it won't harm your arteries either).

This recipe as is makes 7 to 8 cups, serving 8 to 10 as a side dish. Sometimes we just eat the beans in bowls, or use the beans to make burritos, with some sour cream and cheese rolled up in tortillas. That is how much we love them. This recipe is also the basis for several other bean dishes, namely and most importantly
Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans). But for now, here we go:

1 pound (about 2 1/2 cups) dry beans (we usually use pinto, but you can use black, pinto, pink, kidney or navy.)

3 Tablespoons lard (for heaven's sakes, don't measure. Just scoop out a big hunk of lard. I usually use a bit more.)

1 medium white onion, diced

Salt, about 1 1/2 teaspoons

We usually use organic pinto beans, but I didn't have any.
So today we're using organic white navy beans.

1. Cooking the beans. Rinse and sort the beans thoroughly. Put the lard in a large (5- to 6-quart) pot and set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until deep golden, at least 10 minutes. Sometimes 20 minutes. Here's a picture of onions that are not done, although a few of them are golden:

And here is the way I do it. These onions are just perfect:

Scoop in the beans, measure in 2 quarts of water, and remove any beans that float. Onions that float are just fine.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are thoroughly tender, at least 2 hours, depending on the type and freshness of your beans (there should be no chalkiness at all when you break a bean open. You can see chalkiness, and you can also taste it, it's a bit crunchy. Just make sure your beans are perfectly done).

You'll need to gently stir the beans regularly and add water as necessary to keep the liquid a generous 1/2 inch above the level of the beans. (I have to admit, my beans have now been simmering away for almost 2 1/2 hours, and I have not stirred them once. No biggie.)

2. Finishing the beans. Season with salt to taste, simmer another 10 to 15 minutes for the beans to absorb the seasoning, then remove from the heat, and they're ready to serve (to serve a bowl of beans, there should be just enough of the slightly creamy broth to cover the beans; for the best texture in both beans and broth, let the pot cool completely, then reheat before serving. If you can possibly wait that long.)

Advance Preparation--Covered and refrigerated, beans keep for at least 4 days. Reheat slowly, stirring often to prevent sticking.

I also freeze beans all the time! Today I made a double batch, yes two whole pounds of beans, and I will freeze more than half of those. Divide them into meal-sized (four-cup) containers, leaving room at the top for expansion, then freeze. Whenever you need some beans, take them out and gently reheat them in a pot. Or, you could take them out and convert them into delicious Refried Beans!

And would you just break down and try the lard already? I mean it.

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