FRIJOLES BORRACHOS (Mexican “drunken” pinto beans, for six)


“Nothing could be more American than the pinto bean, that exquisite pale pink bean speckled with brown that is common in the western states and Mexico.  This was one of the vegetable crops the conquistadors found when they invaded Mexico, and as they progressed north they came across many pinto beans growing in the part of America that is now California, New Mexico and Arizona, for this was one of the standard foods of the Indians.  They dubbed it “pinto”, Spanish for “spotted”, because of its coloring.”  Beard on Food

Diana Kennedy, one of the foremost American authorities on Mexican food, offers the following rules for making the best-flavored beans:

  • Don’t soak them overnight,
  • cook them very slowly, covered,
  • don’t add salt until the beans are tender (or they won’t soften),
  • never stir them with a metal spoon (or they’ll burn),
  • cook them in an earthenware pot, and
  • eat them a day or two after they’re cooked.


For the beans:

1 pound (about 2-1/4 cups) dried pinto beans, picked over and rinsed

1 large white onion, sliced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 fresh epazote sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried epazote, crumbled (this is hard to find – if it isn’t available, just eliminate it from the recipe)

1 teaspoon salt


For the tomato salsa (about 2 cups):

2 large, vine-ripened tomatoes or ½ pound plum tomatoes

2 fresh Serrano chilies

½ cup chopped fresh coriander

1 teaspoon coarse salt, or to taste

3 tablespoons water

6 thick-cut bacon slices, cut into small squares

½ cup beer (preferably Mexican)

  1. If you are going to soak the beans (Diana advises against this), either place them in a bowl with water to cover by 2 inches and let them soak overnight, or “quick soak” them by bringing 5 quarts of water to a rapid boil in a large bean pot or saucepan, adding the beans, and cooking them for exactly 2 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow the beans to soak, covered, for exactly one hour, then drain.  Rinse under cold water and, if you are not going to proceed immediately, leave beans in cold water to cover until you are ready to use them.
  1. Drain the soaked beans. In a 5-1/2 quart kettle or bean pot simmer the beans, oil, onion, garlic and epazote, if you are using it, in water to cover by 1 inch, covered, 45 minutes, or until the beans are almost tender.  Add the salt and simmer the beans until just tender, about 15 minutes more.  (Beans may be prepared up to this point 2 days ahead and chilled in cooking liquid, covered).
  1. Make the tomato salsa. Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise and seed if necessary.  Finely chop the tomatoes and transfer them, with any juices, to a bowl.  Wearing rubber gloves (unless you’re a manly man and don’t mind burning finger tips), finely chop the chiles, including seeds (the hottest part).  Stir chiles into the tomatoes with the remaining ingredients.  (Salsa may be made 6 hours ahead and chilled, covered).
  1. Drain the beans in a colander. Chop the bacon and in a large, heavy skillet cook over moderate heat, stirring, until browned.  Add the beans, salsa, beer and salt to taste and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes.  (Beans may be made 2 hours ahead and kept at cool room temperature.  Reheat before serving).

adapted from Diana Kennedy, The Essential Cuisines of Mexico

SERVE WITH:  Texas red pork chili

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