Growing up in West Texas, I’d never tasted pinto beans with sugar in them. We ate a lot of pinto beans since they were cheap and healthy. They were always a savory side for things like cornbread or enchiladas.
I never even tried sweet pinto beans until I moved to the eastern part of the state in high school. I still haven’t acquired a taste for them.
I’ll stick to my savory West Texas style pinto beans.
Chiles or no Chiles in Your West Texas Style Pinto Beans?
Being a West Texan, I like green chiles. I like them a lot. Maybe it’s because I grew up so close to both Mexico and New Mexico.
Although green chiles are optional, I highly recommend putting them in your beans.
There are three different ways to buy green chiles at the store. You can buy canned, frozen, or fresh.
I don’t recommend canned chiles. They’re better than nothing, but just barely. I always keep some frozen in case of an emergency (I’m not kidding). Frozen chiles are almost as good as fresh roasted chiles, but not quite.
The best way is to buy them fresh and roast them yourself. First of all, roasted chiles is the most amazing smell in the world. They should make candles that smell like that. Secondly, this gives the best flavor.
To roast fresh chiles in your oven, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
Lightly oil a baking sheet and place the whole chile peppers on it in the center of the oven. Cook 20-30 minutes until the skins are completely blackened, flipping halfway through.
Once blackened, take them out of the oven, put them in a bowl, and cover for about ten minutes. The steam will help loosen the skin so that it’s easier to peel off.
Peel the skin off, then slice in half and remove the stems and seeds.
If you made more than your need, roasted chiles freeze reasonably well. You can put them away so that you’ll have your own emergency stash (they go great on pizza).
Salt Your Beans
This section goes against everything my grandmother taught me growing up. Yes, you should salt your beans during the soak, and no, it will not cause the beans to be tough. In fact, the sodium ions help to soften the skins of the beans. Who knew?
That is an old wives tale, thoroughly debunked by Cook’s Illustrated.
What you do need to be careful of when cooking pinto beans are acidic elements. They will make your beans toughen up. So, if you plan on adding diced tomatoes, wait until near the end when the beans are already soft.
Smash Some Beans for Thick Broth
Another thing people have trouble with is thickening up the broth.
A couple of things will help you make that fantastic gravy that goes with a good pot of beans. First, of course, is to reduce the amount of liquid by boiling rapidly toward the end.
Second is to smash a few beans up against the side of the pot to let the starches escape and thicken up the liquid.
Once the beans start getting a little soft, smash a few beans up against the side of the pot, then stir them in. Do this two or three times before they’re done.
West Texas Style Pinto Beans
The Night Before
- Sort dried pinto beans to ensure there are no rocks or any other debris.
- In a large bowl, add 2 tablespoons of salt to 1 quart of water and mix until dissolved. Add dried beans, then add additional water to cover beans by at least three inches.
The Next Day
- Drain and thoroughly rinse pinto beans.
- Heat vegetable oil in a large dutch oven or pot over medium high heat and saute onions until translucent and starting to brown. About 10 minutes.
- Add garlic and saute an additional 1 minute.
- Add pinto beans, ham hocks, black pepper, bay leaf, and cayenne pepper. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Cover and cook for two hours. Periodically smash a few beans up against the side and stir back in.
- Remove ham hocks, peel all of the meat off and add back into the pot. Discard bones, skin, and fat. Cover and cook an additional 30 minutes.
- Add green chiles into the pot and stir in. Check the consistency of the gravy. If it is too thin, increase heat to a fast boil and cook until reduced.
- Check salt and adjust, if necessary.