If I had to distill the spirit and joie de vivre of into a single recipe it would have to be Frijoles Puercas. Not Frijoles con Puercas, just plain old Frijoles Puercas. The name translates literally as “pig beans”, and while it contains pork products that’s not where it got its name. According to Mrs. Zelayeta these beans are meant to be eaten outdoors, for a picnic perhaps. Pigs also eat outdoors – hence “pig beans”. But I think she’s just being polite. This “side dish” contains a heartstopping amount of bacon and enough cheese and chorizo to be a meal by themselves. “Pig beans” indeed.
Mrs. Zelayeta describes this recipe as a “Mexican whimsy”, and I couldn’t have come up with a better term. At the core of the dish is a traditional scratch preparation of refried beans, using bacon drippings instead of lard, at which point the whimsy takes over. As long as we’re using the drippings we might as well use the bacon – a full half pound’s worth – and maybe throw in a whole chorizo while we’re at it. And a half pound of jack cheese plus a can of sardines for good measure. Because why not? It’s a transformative take on refried beans, especially if you spring for a good-quality smoky bacon. It’s got the texture of homemade refried beans with a core of smoke and spice and a little bit of stringiness from the melted cheese. Consider the sardines optional – you won’t taste them if you add them, but they push the umami over into next week.
Mrs. Zelayeta recommends serving Frijoles Puercas in a casserole dish as part of a picnic potluck. I won’t argue with her – this seems perfect. Your friends or guests will be utterly impressed. At home this could absolutely be a meal by itself, served with a side of rice and a simple salad, and perhaps dressed with some fresh tomatoes to give the impression of trying to eat healthy. It will also work well as half of a traditional rice and beans side in a Mexican meal, except maybe with seafood dishes, or even as a hearty bean dip at a party. I served this to my family paired with Carne de Puerca con Chile Verde and Hominy with Bacon, both from the same cookbook. If you’re counting calories I can’t recommend this option, but it makes for a memorable meal.
- 1 lb dry pinto beans
- 1 ½ quarts water
- ½ lb thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon
- ½ lb Mexican chorizo
- ½ lb Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 can sardines in tomato sauce (optional)
- Soak pinto beans overnight in an excess of water. Remove any "floaters", then rinse and drain.
- Bring 1 ½ quarts of salted water and beans to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer 2-3 hours until beans are tender.
- Cut bacon into small pieces. In a large Dutch oven fry over medium heat until bacon is crisp. Do not drain fat.
- Spoon in beans a little bit at a time, along with some of the cooking water. Mash the beans and allow them to fry a little bit in the bacon drippings before adding more beans. Continue until all beans are used and mash until the mixture resembles traditional refried beans. You may have some cooking water left over. Lower the heat to a simmer.
- In a separate skillet, fry chorizo until slightly crispy and stir into bean mixture.
- Cube Monterey Jack cheese and stir into bean mixture until melted.
- If desired, chop sardines coarsely and stir into bean mixture. Simmer until ready to serve, stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom from scorching. If taking to a picnic, transfer to a large casserole dish and keep covered in a warm oven (275º F) until ready to serve.
Note that Mexican chorizo and Spanish chorizo are two very different beasts. Spanish chorizo is a dried, cured sausage similar to salami and absolutely won’t work for this recipe. Be sure to by fresh, ground Mexican chorizo.
Pepperjack cheese is a worthy substitute for Monterey Jack cheese.
If you can’t find sardines in tomato sauce feel free to use smoked sardines packed in water or oil. Drain the liquid before adding to the beans.