I consider beans an essential side dish for Tex-Mex meals. Give me some tortillas, some salsa, and a bowl of brothy beans, and I’m a happy guy.
While there’s nothing wrong with plain beans, seasoned with a little salt, I like to boost the flavor with some aromatics, spices, and…bacon. This is a cowboy cooking* inspired version of beans, from the north of Mexico and south of Texas, where pinto beans are the local bean of choice, and culinary ideas have been crossing the border for years. It’s a little more south of the border, more Caballero than Cowboy, but what it really is nowadays is the perfect example of a Tex-Mex dish using the best of both worlds.
*Cue Blazing Saddles clip…”How ’bout some more beans, boss?” “I’d say you’ve had enough!” My inner 13 year old giggles every time I think about it.
I’m using a “brine the beans while soaking” technique I learned from Cooks Illustrated. I sort and soak the beans the night before, or first thing in the morning; by the time I come home from work they’re ready to go, and the soaking cuts the cooking time down dramatically. By soaking the beans, I can have my brothy, earthy side dish in right around a half an hour.
Recipe: Pressure Cooker Pinto Beans in Tex-Mex Broth
Adapted From: Robb Walsh The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook
- 6 quart or larger Pressure Cooker (I love my Instant Pot.)
Pressure Cooker Pinto Beans, Tex-Mex style
- 1 pound dried pinto beans
- 1 tablespoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
- 2 quarts water
- 2 ounces bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces (I cut 1 inch off the end of a slab of bacon)
- 1 onion, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- Optional – 1 minced chipotle en adobo with sauce or 1 diced jalapeno pepper
Bean cooking ingredients
- 5 cups water
- Optional – 1 tablespoon lard (or vegetable oil)
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Sort, rinse, and brine the pinto beans: At least 8 hours before cooking, sort the pinto beans, removing broken beans, stones, and dirt clods. Rinse the beans, put them in a large container, cover with 1 tablespoon salt and 2 quarts water, and stir to dissolve the salt. Let the beans soak for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
- Sauté the aromatics: Put the bacon in the pressure cooker pot over low heat, and cook until has rendered its fat and is crispy and brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon to a paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon, leaving as much of the bacon fat behind as possible. (There should be 1 to 2 tbsp of fat left in the pan; if there is a lot less, add a little vegetable oil.) Turn the heat up to medium, add the onion, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp kosher salt, and sauté until the onions soften, about 5 minutes. Make a hole in the middle of the onions and add the garlic and cumin; let sit in the pan for 1 minute or until you can smell the garlic cooking, then stir into the onions. Cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes, then add the chipotle and stir.
- Cook the pinto beans: Drain the pinto beans, rinse, and add to the pressure cooker. Pour in the water, then stir in the bay leaf and lard. Lock the lid on the pressure cooker, increase the heat to high, and bring the cooker up to high pressure. Cook at high pressure for 15 minutes on a stovetop PC/18 minutes electric PC. Turn off the heat, and quick release the pressure in the cooker. Remove the lid carefully, opening away from you – even when it’s not under pressure, the steam in the cooker is very hot. Discard the bay leaf, and stir in the reserved bacon. (Or, cook under pressure for 12 minutes stovetop/15 minutes electric, then let the pressure come down naturally for about 15 minutes.)
- Finish the beans: Check the beans to make sure they are cooked through and softened. If not, either bring the pressure cooker back to high pressure for another 3 minutes, or simmer the beans uncovered for ten minutes, or until cooked to your liking. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Vegetarian beans: Skip the bacon, and substitute 2 tbsp vegetable oil, and use vegetable oil instead of the lard.
- Use make-ahead beans: If you followed my earlier advice and made extra beans for the freezer, you can use those instead of cooking a new batch. Instead of pressure cooking the beans, cook everything in a large pot. Saute the aromatics, then add 4 cups of made ahead beans. The broth from the beans should be enough liquid, but if necessary, add water to come up to just below the surface of the beans. Bring the beans to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer for ten to fifteen minutes to let the flavors mingle.
- Use canned beans: Don’t even have some make ahead beans? That’s OK – use canned. Drain and rinse two 15 oz cans of black beans. Cook as above in the “make ahead beans” section, but when you add the beans also add water (or chicken stock, if you have it) to just below the surface of the beans.
- Don’t have make-ahead beans, but want to make some for next time? I double the bean side of the recipe, and cook two pounds of beans. When I’m done, I remove four cups worth of beans from the pot, put them in freezer-safe containers, and freeze them for later.
- If you don’t want to soak the beans, or you forgot (like I do all the time), do the following. Sort and rinse the beans, put them in the pot with 7 cups of water, and increase the time under high pressure to 40 minutes (30 with natural pressure release).
Robb Walsh The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook
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