After my dad passed away in 2005 my mind was full of all the things I would miss. His laugh, his advice, his silly nicknames. It wasn’t until about a year later when I realized I also never learned how he made his famous pinto beans and I LOVE his pinto beans. They were always super creamy and very flavorful with a hint of spice. Dad was also always looking for ways to save money. During the holidays he would use the bone from ham dinner and would make a big batch of beans specifically for freezing about 100 bean and cheese burritos for lunch at work. If he didn’t have a ham bone he would substitute ham hocks.
For the past couple years I have racked my brain for hints to his recipe. At first I couldn’t remember anything except that he used ham hocks or bones. Ham hock was one of his silly nicknames for me and I never knew what a ham hock was until he made a pot of beans one day and added three ham hocks to the pot. For some reason that stuck with me.
After talking with my mom and doing a little bit of research & experimentation I came up with a recipe I am happy with. It’s probably not exactly like his, but comes close enough.
Steve’s Creamy Pinto Beans
- 2 lbs dried pinto beans
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons of ham or bacon fat
- 2-3 cups of leftover cooked ham roast, big chunks are fine
- 1 leftover ham shank bone or 3-4 ham hocks
- 1 dried Guajillo chili, stemmed, seeded and ground (or a couple canned jalapenoes)
- 12 cups of cold unsalted water, divided
- 1 tablespoon butter
- salt and pepper, to taste
1. The night before put 2 pounds of pinto beans in a large stockpot full of water. Let them soak overnight.
2. When you are ready to cook the beans drain them and set aside in a large bowl. Chop up 1 onion and 6 cloves of garlic. Heat the large stockpot on medium heat and melt about 2 tablespoons of ham or bacon fat in the bottom. Add the onion and garlic to the pot and stir. Let it cook for a minute. Turn the heat up to med-high and wait about a minute for the pan to heat up then add 2-3 cups of roughly chopped leftover ham shank roast plus the bone from the roast (I froze my Christmas ham bone and used it for this recipe). Let this brown on all sides by letting it brown a bit on the bottom before stirring the meat or turning the bone. Browning is great, burning is bad. Let this cook for about 10 minutes. Turn the temp down a little if it seems to be browning too fast.
3. While the ham bone browns, remove the stem and seeds from 1 dried Guajillo chili. Grind the chili in a food processor until coarsely ground. Dump into bottom of cooking pot with the onions. Stir and allow chili to roast for 1 minute. Alternatively you could chop up a couple canned jalapeno chilies. That is what my dad used.
4. Deglaze the pot by adding 1 cup of water and stirring with a wooden spoon while gently scraping all the yummy brown bits from the bottom of the pan. When the bottom is clear of brown bits add 11 more cups of unsalted cold water and 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the beans and stir.
5. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. After it reaches a boil turn the heat down to low and simmer until the beans are mushy, about 2 hours. Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom so nothing burns.
6. When the beans are cooked remove the ham bone, scrape off any extra chunks of ham and add them back to the pot. Mash the cooked beans and ham with a potato masher until creamy. If you would like to you can add some oil, butter or lard to the finished beans for additional creaminess. If the beans are thin then let them simmer on low, stirring occasionally, until they are the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper when they are done.
We add lots of cheese to our beans and use them in burritos, quesadillas, bean dip or just a big cozy bowlful by itself. They freeze very well in freezer bags or as individually wrapped and frozen bean and cheese burritos.