Mexican-Style Beans (Frijoles de la Olla)
An olla (pronounced "oh-yah") is a narrow-necked earthenware pot traditionally used in Mexico. You can use any large pot to cook your beans. They will still be in the style of Frijoles de la Olla – simple, brothy and delicious.
2 cups dried pinto or black beans
10 cups cold water
2 Tablespoons olive oil, bacon fat, or or other oil/fat (for a more traditional taste, you can use lard or bacon fat in place of olive oil.)
2 tsp salt (and perhaps more to taste)
1 medium yellow onion
Optional: a fresh jalapeno or serrano chile, or a dried chile such as a guajillo or ancho; blacken the chile in a dry skillet before adding it for more flavor.
Optional: a few sprigs fresh cilantro for garnish
1. Pick through the dried beans to be sure there are no small stones or clumps of dirt. Rinse the beans in a colander and put them in a large pot.
2. Put the pot on the cold stove and pour the cold water over the beans. Throw out any beans that float. Add the oil and salt to the beans and turn the heat to high with the lid askew.
What, no soaking?
If you prefer to soak beans overnight before you cook them, go for it - but we skip this step! Traditional Mexican recipes do not call for it and it seems completely unnecessary to us. (Plus, we never think ahead enough to soak overnight.) And J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats agrees with us! Read his article here.
3. While the beans begin to warm, peel the onion and cut it into large chunks. Add the chunks of onion to the pot and stir them in.
4. If using, add the guajillo or blackened jalapeno to the pot and stir it in. (Adding a chile to your beans will add a bit more complexity and depth to the flavor of the beans in the end, and maybe a hint of spice, but not much.)
5. With the lid askew, allow the beans to come to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat to medium-high so the beans continue to cook at a strong simmer.
6. Allow the beans to cook for 2-3 hours. Give them an occasional stir and enjoy the delicious aroma as it fills your home.
7. When you think the beans are ready, remove one or two from the pot to test them.
Test for doneness: If your beans are fully cooked (and they probably are by now), the skin will break and curl away as you blow on them.
Test for brothiness: The broth should be dark and thickened a bit, not watery. And it should be delicious! If the broth seems watery and bland, boil the beans with the lid off for 15 minutes to a half-hour (depending on the strength of your stove and the wateriness of the beans). This will allow the water to evaporate, leaving more flavor behind.
Test for flavor: Beans gradually develop flavor over time (in fact, leftover beans are often more flavorful on the second or third day!). The best beans are just as flavorful as the broth they are swimming in. If the flavors seem a little bland or out of balance, try boiling the broth down a bit (as described above). If the broth is the right consistency but the beans still lack flavor, add a pinch or two more salt. Stir it in and give it about 15 minutes before you taste again. When the beans are so good you just want to keep eating them, you are done!
8. Remove and discard the chile and serve the beans hot with cilantro sprigs or torn leaves on top if you'd like.