Authentic Refried Beans

The first Friday of the month is reserved for recipes. You can see additional First Friday Food posts here.

The Reason:

I love Rick Bayless. I am on the record about this. As such, we own a well-worn copy of Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen. I’ve previously blogged a recipe from there, Tamal Azteca with Quick-Cooked Tomato-Chipotle Sauce.

So I think we originally just looked up this recipe as a generic side dish for mexican food, before realizing it’s so much more than that.

The Journey:

I’m known to eat a little bacon here and there. At some point, I realized there was no reason to throw away all that “liquid gold” bacon grease, and started saving it for cooking. The best use for bacon grease is refried beans, but it also works well for frying pancakes!


This recipe is so simple, that I almost feel bad calling it a recipe. Beans, onions, garlic. What’s the big deal? Well, you eat it and you tell me.

frying onions

I never would have considered refried beans a health food, but making them from scratch like this, they’re not so bad. Beans, onions, garlic. (And a good thing too, since you’ll be wolfing them down by the spoonful!)

pinto beans

The Verdict:

If you have eaten at our house, there’s a good chance we have tried to feed these to you. I swear to you, I didn’t know that refried beans could possibly taste this good. It actually makes me sad that so many people will never experience how awesome these are, and just continue to think of refried beans as that brownish paste from a can that Taco Bell uses to glue the soft taco to the crunchy taco.

refried beans

The Recipe:

Recipe from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen.

  • 2 Tablespoons bacon grease
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 cups undrained, seasoned cooked beans
  • Salt
  1. Heat the bacon grease in a large pan.
  2. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until deep golden, about 10 minutes
  3. Str in the garlic, cook for a minute or so.
  4. Add in about 1/4 of the beans, leaving most of the liquid behind.
  5. With a potato masher, mash the beans into a coarse puree. Add another portion of the beans, and mash. Continue until all the beans have been added.
  6. Add about a cup of bean liquid and stir frequently over the heat until the beans are still a little soupier than you’d like to serve them (they’ll thicken as they sit).
  7. Salt to taste.


When it comes time for a birthday dinner, we turn to our favorite Chicago chef, Rick Bayless. This time we tried out Frontera’s little sister XOCO (pronounced “show-co”).

It was perfect! Exactly what we needed.

The food was amazing, and fresh, and unique, but everything was very low key. With the kids, we’re always looking for a compromise between something amazing and something where we’re not going to disturb people. That’s exactly what this was (at least before 5 p.m. on a weeknight). No waiting in line, no waiting for a table, and not many people around to disturb.

We had a couple of tortas (Baja Chicken Torta and Choriques to be specific). I thought they were both good, but the baja chicken was amazing.

(This is not actually what we ate, but I stole these pictures from the XOCO website and beggars can’t be choosers)

Sara had the Carnitas Caldos, which is a spicy soup with pork and avocado chunks. This was also good, but very, very salty.

Of course, in the midst of all this good food, Evie only wanted to eat tortilla chips.

Until dessert that is. We each had a churro and we shared a couple of mugs of their amazing hot chocolate. I don’t say cocoa, I say hot chocolate, because it was like drinking a delicious cup full of melted chocolate bars. It was so rich and thick that I’m really not sure I could have finished a glass by myself. But sharing it was just perfect, and gave us an excuse to try two different kinds. For my money, the almond milk one was better, but everyone else preferred the classic.

XOCO is great if you’re looking for something a little bit quicker and easier than Frontera, and well worth the trip downtown (even if the meter did cost me $3.50 an hour!) Thank you Mr. Bayless for never failing to exceed expectations! (P.S. We finally broke down and bought a copy of Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, so we can stop checking it out from the library all the time!)