I think a lot about the meals that shaped my childhood, the old standby family favorites my mom made without ever consulting a cookbook. We had a few different family recipes for beans, but frijoles charros was always one of my favorites (a good thing because she always made a huge pot to last for days). I loved eating these beans so much as a kid that this was one of the first recipes my mom ever taught me.
She had a habit of telling me that I did a better job of making her recipes than she did, which I always denied, despite being flattered by the compliment. I mean, come on. What beats mom’s home cooking? Looking back, I wonder if she just said that to get me to cook more often so that she didn’t have to. Hmm.
Frijoles charros are traditionally made with bacon, which is how we always had them, but variations can use a combination of meats, including chorizo, ham, salt pork, and even beef. They’re all good choices, but I've tweaked this recipe a bit over the years since there’s not a single meat I love using to flavor a pot of beans more than smoked pork hocks (so far). Since they’ve already been cooked low and slow, the tissues have been broken down, easily releasing collagen and gelatin into the mix. Simmering smoked hocks with your beans is going to draw both of those out and into the broth, making it rich, thick, and sticky. Sorry, bacon.
The day I cook frijoles charros, I typically have them as a main dish over rice, with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of Cotija cheese. Day 2, I’m using them to make refried beans to have with a couple of fried eggs, hot sauce, and toast or warm tortillas for breakfast. Day 3, they’re getting mashed and dolloped onto tortilla chips along with cheese, pickled jalapeños and whatever other nacho fixings I’ve got on hand. If, by some chance, they make it to Day 4, they get packed and rolled into a flour tortilla with some pepper jack cheese and Mexican rice for a farewell burrito. Then it’s just a countdown to the next time I make another pot.
The joy of this recipe is that it’s meant to be rustic, so you don’t have to be too precious about cutting everything just so. Don’t tell her I told you this, but there would absolutely be days when my mom just threw everything into a pot without sautéing any of the vegetables first. Sometimes, she’d just peel the onion and throw it in the pot, whole. And you know what? Still a really good pot of beans. —Jarrett Melendez
Test Kitchen Notes
Adjust the amount of serrano pepper to your preference for heat. You can also remove the seeds and ribs before mincing to help cut down on the spice level while keeping the fresh chili pepper flavor they add to the beans. —Jess Kapadia
- Prep time 30 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour 45 minutes
- Serves 8
pinto beans, soaked overnight
large yellow onion, diced
serrano chiles, minced
plum tomatoes, diced
1 1/2 pounds
smoked pork hocks
1 1/2 quarts
low-sodium chicken stock
kosher salt, plus more to taste
dried Mexican oregano
cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
lime wedges and crumbled Cotija cheese
- Drain and rinse the soaked pinto beans and set aside.
- Heat lard in a large cast-iron Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Stir in onion and chilis. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion softens and just starts to turn brown on the edges, about 5 to 6 minutes.
- Add minced garlic and continue stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to break down and form a chunky sauce, about 4 to 6 minutes.
- Add beans, hocks, chicken stock, kosher salt, Mexican oregano, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Let cook until beans are tender, about 1 hour. Remove the hocks to cool, and discard the bay leaves.
- Increase the heat to a low boil and let the beans cook, uncovered, until broth has reduced and thickened slightly, about 20 minutes.
- Once hocks are cool enough to handle, remove skin and excess fat. Shred the meat with a fork and stir, along with the chopped cilantro, into the beans. Season to taste with additional salt, and serve.