I used to be so strict when making pot beans at home, but not so much any more!
Now I just improvise and make them whenever I run out.
That means the ingredient list will vary, but the result seems to be surprisingly consistent, so I hope this post inspires you to make a batch at home!
How To Make Improvised Pot Beans
A traditional batch of pot beans simmers away in lard for a few hours.
I got in the habit of rendering lard from pork back fat and using that to make some real deal Frijoles de Olla. And if I ran out of home-rendered lard, well ... no more beans!
But lately I'm in the habit of storing bacon drippings in the fridge, so I've been using that along with anything else that sounds good at the time.
For this batch that means:
2-3 tablespoons bacon drippings
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
And after doing a few improvised batches like this I'm mostly convinced that it's the act of simmering your own beans that creates the majority of their goodness.
Yes, the ingredient list, and a bit of fat, will impact the final flavor, but the simple act of simmering them at home will bring you most of the rewards. That's good news!
Start by giving a single pound of dried beans a quick once-over.
I used black beans for this batch, but you can definitely use Pinto or Peruano.
Discard any stones or strugglers, and then give them a good rinse.
Add them to a pot along with:
2 quarts of water
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, roughly chopped
2-3 tablespoons bacon drippings, or lard
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano What is Mexican oregano?
The amount of water will depend on the pot you're using, but ensuring that the water level is about 2" above the beans is a good starting point to keep in mind. For this pot that was 2 quarts.
Bring this to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat so that it simmers away quietly for the next couple hours (that was low heat on my stove).
I usually start checking on them after 90 minutes or so. Pull one out and take a bite -- if it's still firm or grainy then they need a bit more time.
Here's how this batch looked after 2 hours of simmering.
When they are getting close you can add the salt.
Add 2 teaspoons of salt, stir well, and then let them simmer for another 15 minutes or so.
Beans are hyper-sensitive to salt amount so this is probably the most important step! All beans have their own sweet spot, so it's worth doing some final taste testing and adding more until it tastes right to you.
I added another generous pinch of salt to this batch (so that is just under 3 teaspoons worth, or a just under a single tablespoon).
And they were dee-licious 🙂
I can usually tell when the salt level is correct because the broth will also taste "right" to me, so it's worth taking a sip of the broth as well.
Speaking of broth, for this batch I didn't need to add any additional water during the simmer. Sometimes you will (especially if you cook them uncovered) but you can always just add a few more cups to keep the water level above the beans.
Why is this important? Resting in the broth helps the beans store longer, but more importantly...
It makes it easy to make refried beans!! Just put some beans in a skillet along with some broth, mash 'em up, and cook them on medium-low heat until they are the right consistency for you.
That's why I store these in single cup portions with plenty of broth, like this:
This batch already has loads of flavor right out of the pot, but if you ever feel like you want to add more flavor to your refried beans then see the Killer Refried Beans recipe.
This pound of dried beans made 7 single cup portions of cooked beans. I put 5 of them in the freezer where they will keep for months, and I put the other 2 portions in the fridge to be used over the next couple days.
Okay, I hope this post inspires you to improvise some pot beans at home! You'll get a big upgrade in flavor compared to store-bought versions, and it will lead to all sorts of quick, satisfying meals.
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Improvised Pot Beans -- Frijoles de Olla
- 1 lb. dried beans (approx 2.5 cups worth)
- 2-3 tablespoons lard, or bacon drippings
- 1/2 onion
- 1 jalapeno
- 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
- 2 quarts water (plus more if necessary)
- 2 teaspoons salt (plus more to taste)
- Give the beans a once-over and discard any stones or strugglers. Rinse the beans.
- Add the beans to a pot and cover with 2 quarts of water, or so the water level is about 2" above the beans.
- Add the roughly chopped 1/2 onion and jalapeno to the pot, along with 2-3 tablespoons bacon drippings or lard, and 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano.
- Bring them to a boil, then reduce heat, partially cover, and let them simmer away for a couple hours. Note: when partially covered I use low heat on my stove for a simmer.
- Ensure that the beans are always submerged in liquid. If the water level ever seems too low you can just add a few more cups.
- I usually start taking bites after 90 minutes or so. If they are still firm or grainy then they need more time. Once they are close you can add two teaspoons of salt, that was around the 2 hour mark for this batch.
- Once salted, let them simmer for another 10-15 minutes and then take a final taste for seasoning. I added another generous pinch of salt to this batch, so that is approx. 3 teaspoons total for this batch.
- Once cooked you can optionally split them into 1-cup sized portions. Be sure to include some of the broth in each of the portions. I usually store some of the portions in the freezer where they will keep for months, and keep a couple portions in the fridge to be used over the next few days.
I used these pot beans to make some awesome Bean Tostadas:
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I have always replaced lard (when I run out) with Ghee (clarified butter) in my beans. It works well.
Give it a try.
Thanks Michael, adding that to my list. Cheers.
Someone once told me if you don't want to use lard or bacon you should try using butter in your refried beans. I tried it it really is good that way.
Hey thanks for mentioning this KM, never tried that but will put it on my list. Cheers.
I’d to try this but we don’t use lard/bacon fat. Can you possibly suggest a substitute for texture/flavor? Thanks so much!
Hey Christina! Hmmmm that is a tough one. I think you'll still be happy with the results even if just omit the lard and get the salt level to your liking -- that alone will make them taste better than store-bought beans.
I make my own chicken stock and have been meaning to experiment with using that as the liquid for beans -- if you have some stock that you trust you could put some in the pot and that will add a bit of the savoriness that you're losing by omitting the lard.
Okay hope this helps a bit. Cheers.
I recently purchased a Traeger smoker and have been experimenting with it. On one of my briskets I ended up saving the tallow. One Mexican dinner day I put a spoon of it in a can of sunvista pintos while cooking them… it was unbelievable flavor you gotta try it. I think it’s better tasting than lard. I’ve since tried it in chili beans and it wasn’t anything special, but some plain pintos is miraculous. Also, the brisket tacos are too shelf stuff.
Hey thanks for your note Justin, so good to know! Interesting that it worked so much better with pintos, looking forward to trying this out. Cheers.
I see older folks in Mexico cooking beans in la olla.
The beans are dark, what kind of beans are they?
Hey Rose, most likely those are black beans. Cheers.
Thanks for this inspiration, Patrick! I made a pot of these using Rancho Gordo pinto beans, and this recipe produces such a wonderful, simple, delicious treat -- delightful to eat just as bowls of beans, and versatile, can be used in combination with many other dishes. So amazing!
Thanks Paul, so glad you tried out this recipe 🙂
What a great recipe! I've made these many times but never thought to freeze them, thanks for the excellent idea 💡
Very nice cooked black bean recipe for adding to a Mexican or Tex - Mex style dish but the flavour additions especially the bacon fat that a lot of people dislike would not be welcome in a dish one would be making that calls for plain cooked black beans.