Baby-sitting pinto beans for three days to convert the gravelly bits into velvety smooth refried beans sounds like an ordeal.
But Luis Rivera began learning the process to soak beans and monitor the water's temperature and level as a teenager growing up in Carlsbad, N.M., with his mother and five siblings.
"It was organized chaos in the kitchen," he said, laughing. "She would give everybody something to do, and my job was making the beans."
Now, Rivera cooks for his wife and five kids and still uses Mom's method to make the dry staple taste better than the commercially canned product for pennies on the dollar. He figures that he saves about 75 percent off the retail price, which makes the three-day process of soaking and cooking the beans on "high" in a slow cooker pay off.
"You do need to add more water the last thing before bed and the first thing in the morning. And if you're up in the middle of the night, check it again to make sure there's enough water," he said.
But because refried beans are a nutritious, high-fiber food that, when served with cheese on a tortilla, whets the appetite of everyone under his roof, Rivera regularly makes a big batch.
The big batch is really big as the beans typically quadruple in size when rehydrated and cooked.
So he splits the big batch into about four or five batches, with each small batch being enough to fill about half of his 11-inch-diameter cast iron pan.
The first batch out of the big batch goes straight to the refrying step.
He starts by scooping a half-cup of bacon grease saved in a tin beside the stove from so many hot breakfasts. As the solid fat melts over medium high heat in the pan, he measures about a third of a cup of flour -- although he uses his hand instead of a cup.
"When my Mom taught me to cook, she taught me the old-fashioned way. I don't measure stuff," Rivera said.
But he sticks to Mom's method.
When the grease liquifies, Rivera sprinkles the flour over the surface and whisks it until the roux bubbles enough to turn brown. Adding a batch of cooked beans before this stage will cause them to taste floury, he said.
Then, with a potato masher, he mixes the beans and the roux into a smooth spread so tasty that the kids stand by the stove and wait while he warms each of them a tortilla over another burner's flame. Because the beans taste best when refried before serving, he lets the other three or four batches of beans cool on the counter before freezing them in airtight containers.
"They will keep there for about six months. But beans usually only last two or three weeks in our freezer," he said.
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