Yet another entry in the ever expanding string of dishes I seem to mention frequently, but have yet to actually post a recipe for. This one comes from Doug in Iowa, (Des Moines, in fact). He writes, ‘I’ve enjoyed your bean recipes lately, but when I went looking for charro beans, I couldn’t find anything. Were they maybe named something else?’ No, Doug, they weren’t. And for something I oft tote as a necessary part of a homemade Mexican meal, you’d think they’d be here alright. Anyway, time to fix that one, so charro beans, here we come.
Now, for the record, a Charro is a Mexican cowboy – those guys dressed in gorgeous outfits who participate in the coleadero y charreada, a rodeo that developed from informal inter-ranch skills competitions. While more than one Mexican state claims the origin, it seems likely that Jalisco takes the prize – Charros, (and Charras), originated in the Salamanca province of Spain, and then settled there, back in the colonial days.
That bean dish that shares the moniker also came from the ranch lands. Like chili, charro beans are a stew, meant to be a hearty meal to fuel a cowboy or cowgirl for many hours of hard work. The most traditional bean used is a pinto, which is generally combined with pork, chiles, tomato, onion, and garlic. Charros are delicious, and so they naturally spread with the folks who love it, perhaps most notably to northern Mexico and Texas, and into Tex-Mex cuisine. Nowadays, versions can be found damn near anywhere there’s a decent Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant.
Now, that said, charro beans were and are also meant to use up what you have that needs to be used, and/or, what you really love to combine – There are no hard and fast rules, despite what you may read elsewhere. Like all great signature dishes, there’s a ton of cooks who make them their own way, just as you should, so let’s break things down by primary elements.
First, the beans – You can and should use whatever you have and love, though they should be a variety that holds up well to low and slow cooking, (which is a lot of ‘em, thankfully.) I’ve made charros with white, black, brown, and red bean varieties, and they were all delicious. I strongly recommend making them with high quality, dry beans like Rancho Gordo, but if you’re in the mood and have a need for speed, they’ll make a can of beans far more than presentable pretty quickly.
If you’re not a meat eater, charros are a great dish, because you sure don’t need any for this to be a hearty and delicious meal. For those that do, it’s usually pork, and I’ve seen everything from bacon to pork shoulder, smoked ham hock, chorizo, and even hot dogs – Remember, it’s what you’ve got that needs using and what you love, and nada else.
Peppers of some kind are a must, but whether or not they’re hot is up to you. Sweet peppers are fine if that’s your jam, as are nuclear chiles. Most folks probably lean toward jalapeños as the standard, and for good reason – Field stripped, they’re relatively mild and tasty as all get out. Tossed into the mix whole, they have reasonable heat. Go with what you love.
Tomatoes are a must, and plum varieties like a Roma are most common. You can use canned if that’s what you’ve got, but if fresh ‘maters are in season, that’s where you aughta be.
Onions are also a must, and they need to be notable in the mix. That said, the variety is up to you. When fresh sweets like a Walla Walla are in season, that’s where I go. In general, you want fresh stuff – a really strong old onion can poison this dish pretty quickly.
Garlic is a must. Not so much that the dish screams its presence, but enough to give it that low, sweet funky note.
A little salt and fresh ground pepper, and fresh cilantro is the baseline seasoning for charros. There’s lots more you can use if you like – Mexican oregano, lemon thyme, and citrus juice and zest have been long time faves of mine, for good reason.
Now, as for beer, the answer is no, it’s not necessary. That’s a Tex-Mex specific trick that I personally don’t do. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t, though – We put beer in chili or stew, and it’ll go just fine in charros. Personally, I go with the liquid the beans cooked in, bean stock, because, well, it’s a bean stew, right? Anything else is up to you – put whatever you like in there that makes it your signature version – To each their own.
As for cooking process, it’s best to go the traditional low and slow method. If you’re in a hurry and you have the goods, very decent charros can be whipped up in the time it takes to get other things ready for tacos, for instance. If what you have is canned beans, adding the required adjuncts, quickly diced, with enough chicken or veggie stock to get the right, soupy consistency, coupled with a 30 minute simmer, will be more than OK.
If you’re using dry beans, they need to be par cooked before you begin the charro cook. This is the stage I cook all my beans to – al dente, so that I can do stuff like charros, barbecue, or baked dishes without the beans turning to mush – That’s how I freeze them for pretty quick future use, too.
A lot of charro recipes tell you to simmer the beans in water, fry and sauté most of the other ingredients, and then assemble, heat through for a bit, and serve. For my taste, you get a far better dish with deeper flavors, if you simmer everything together for at least 30 minutes, and longer if you wish. Finally, you’ll see that I roast most of the constituents in my charros – This creates a notably richer dish.
Charro Beans de UrbanMonique
1 Pound par cooked, dry Pinto Beans (or any reasonable substitution)
Bean Stock to cover
Chicken or Veggie Stock to top off
6 strips smoky, Pepper Bacon
2 medium Sweet Onions
4 fresh Roma Tomatoes
2 fat cloves Garlic
2-4 Chiles (We like jalapeño or serrano)
1 small Lemon
6-8 stalks fresh Cilantro
1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano
Salt and freshly ground Pepper to taste
1. High quality beans like Rancho Gordo really and truly do not require anything added when initially boiled. You certainly can put stuff in there if you like – I often just toss in a couple bay leaves, and that’s plenty. If you want a more definitive base, a thick slice of onion cut in half, a few 1/2” rounds of carrot and celery, and those bay leaves, will do nicely.
2. You do not need to soak high quality beans before boiling them – You really don’t.
3. You will want a ready supply of boiling water to add to the beans as they cook, so either a tea pot, hot pot, or spare pan should be set up with at least a quart of water therein.
4. You can prep everything but beans as they are boiling if you like, or wait until they’re cooked to al dente – Your choice, and it won’t hurt a thing either way.
Pour beans into a colander and rinse thoroughly, inspecting for rocks and other detritus.
Transfer beans to a heavy sauce pan over high heat and add enough water to cover by at least 2” – and 3” is better.
When the beans begin to boil, set a timer for 10 minutes.
When your 10 minutes are up, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Hang out long enough to see where things settle, and adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer.
Keep an eye on things as the beans cook, topping off the water to maintain at least 2” over the beans – This will change as they absorb water, so don’t leave them for long.
At 30 minutes into the simmer, give the beans a good stir and check one or two for doneness – They will not be close in all likelihood, but you’d much rather catch things on the upslope then down, eh?
When your beans are al dente – Still not soft enough to be ready to eat, but not far off, remove the pan from heat while you prep everything else.
Peal and trim onion and garlic, stem chiles, (and field strip the chiles, if you’re cutting the heat factor down – aka remove the white membrane – That’s where the heat lives).
Cut onion, tomatoes, and chiles in half.
Cut lemon in half, return half to fridge. Zest the working half.
Arrange onion, chiles, tomatoes, garlic, lemon, and bacon on a baking sheet, on an upper middle oven rack.
Set oven on broil and roast until bacon looks done and the veggies begin to blister and blacken.
Turn the veggies and the bacon once and continue roasting for another 3-5 minutes, until the bacon looks done on the turned side.
Remove from oven and allow everything to cool enough to handle.
Dice all the roasted veggies, and mince the garlic.
Rough chop cilantro.
Turn the heat under the beans back up to medium high.
Add roasted veggies and stir to incorporate.
Add chicken or veggies stock to cover beans by at least 2”.
Allow the beans to come back to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to maintain a bare simmer.
Add oregano, and stir to incorporate.
Simmer until the beans attain a thick soup consistency, around 30 minutes, and longer if you wish.
just prior to service, add the cilantro and the lemon zest, and squeeze in the juice from the roasted lemon half – stir to incorporate.
Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.