This is my family’s standard, no-frills recipe for pinto beans, which yields a pot rich in flavor despite the short ingredient list. Leftovers can be mashed and heated in a skillet for easy refried beans.
Serves 6 to 8
- 1 pound dried pinto beans, rocks and shriveled beans discarded, rinsed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 smoked ham shank
- 1 Tablespoon olive or vegetable oil, or bacon drippings
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- optional toppings, in any combination: salsa, chopped cilantro, chopped green onions, pickled cocktail onions, sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped tomato, minced jalapeno
- Place beans in a large bowl and cover with cold water by about 3 inches. Let soak 8 hours or overnight.
- Drain beans and place in an 8-quart pot. Add bay leaves and ham shank to pot. Cover with fresh cold water by about 2 inches, and bring to a boil over high heat.
- While the water comes to the boiling point, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the diced onion for 5 to 8 minutes, until soft. Add to the pot of beans.
- When the water boils, reduce the heat to low and partially cover the pot. Simmer at a constant but gently bubble for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
- Remove ham shank and cut the meat from the bones, discarding skin and fat (the meat should practically fall off the bone). Shred or tear into bite-sized pieces and return to the pot.
- Test beans for doneness–they should be quite soft but not completely tender yet. Add a good dose of black pepper, and add salt to taste one teaspoonful at a time, tasting after each addition. Continue to simmer uncovered for 20 to 30 more minutes, until seasoning is perfect, the liquid is reduced to the desired consistency, and the beans are very tender.
- Serve hot, with cornbread and/or any desired toppings.