I judge a good Mexican restaurant, cafe, or fast food joint by their beans and rice. Yep, beans and rice. If they get those two things right, then the rest of the food usually falls in line with being good, also.
I have ‘studied’ dozens of recipes for refried beans over the years and have tried many of them. Some of them have been fairly good and some have been decidedly unrepeatable. An authentic recipe for refried beans is actually very simple, involving only a few ingredients, namely pinto beans, salt, lard, and maybe some onions. Lard has a life of it’s own in Mexican recipes and is often the background flavor for many of those dishes.
SOMETIMES I use lard, but mostly I try to behave myself. Sometimes I just really crave that flavor and have to take a walk on the wild side.
In this recipe for refried beans, I circumvent using lard because I flavor the beans with smoked pork hocks while they are cooking. Pork hocks are probably even less glamorous than lard, but man oh man do they pack a lot of flavor. I also use my slow cooker to both soak and then later cook the beans. It is the easy way out an easy way to make great beans with minimal effort on busy days…or even on I-have-all-the-time-in-the-world days. I also circumvent the “refrying” process by using hamhocks–no need to reheat/recook the beans in oil.
When I make refried beans, I often make a lot. I use what I need and then divide the rest into freezer safe containers for future meals. It is simple to just pop the container of frozen beans into the microwave for a few minutes to defrost and heat the prepared beans.
When preparing the beans, I use my food processor to quickly blend the beans to the consistency that I want–smoother and thinner for a simple refried bean side; chunkier and thicker for using in bean burritos. I toss a few seasonings in the food processor along with the beans so that everything gets chopped/blended at the same time, again this is a time saver.
A vegetarian version of refried beans can easily be made by leaving out the pork hocks and cooking the beans in vegetable broth and adding a few simple seasonings.