usually mistakenly translated as "refried beans", but are really just "recooked" beans. Boil a pot of pinto beans, when the beans are done, they are soft. Spoon some of them out into another pan and mash them. Cook them down so the liquid evaporates.

Frijoles refritos

The latin word sic is used to mark that a quoted or translated passage contains errors in the original. It’s one of the most useful editorial marks, although many of my acquaintances seem to forget that it exists from time to time. This is a pity, given that lots of ad hominem arguments today stem from pointing out mistakes in the opposing arguments’ form (grammar, syntax, et cetera).

The use—and concept—of sic serves two purposes at the same time, both necessary—in my opinion—if one is to be an honest writer of any kind. The first is to be faithful to and respectful of the source, to try and pass its message with as little interference and interpretation as possible. The second is to be faithful to the audience, to show that a somewhat careful eye has seen the text, recognized the mistakes present and—hopefully—corrected those within their responsibility.

I mention this because of an… interesting difference between two descriptions of this dish. Let’s review them:

  • bozon mentions that the dish is «usually mistakenly translated as “refried beans”, but are really just “recooked” beans»
  • chancel mentions that «“refried” is a misnomer; “twice-cooked” would be a more accurate title.»

Let’s see if you can spot the difference. It’s subtle and maybe requires knowing Spanish.


Indeed, the first of those descriptions is not entirely honest.

The word «refrito» is indeed correctly translated as «refried». It’s easy to see that the original and translated words are very similar, both consisting of the same two parts:

  1. The prefix re- comes from Latin and generally means doing something again (see the entry at the Online Etymology Dictionary (n.d.) for a list of examples), and
  2. The past tense of the verb «to fry»

So the overall word means something akin to «fried again» or even «well fried». The translation is correct indeed. So what’s the issue?

The «error», if there is any, is that this nomenclature exists in the original language. The name «frijoles refritos» is indeed a misnomer, but a misnomer that comes from whoever named them in the first place in Spanish. If anything, translating the name as «refried beans» is probably the most honest way of talking about the dish, even if—as chancel says—is a misnomer.

Andy, who cares if it’s a mistranslation or a misnomer?

Faithfulness to the source and honesty to the reader; the same two reasons why we use sic. Talking of «refried beans» and not «recooked beans» conveys more than just a word, it’s more accurate and faithful of the language—and by extension culture—that originates the dish. If I saw someone translating this dish as «recooked beans» I’d accuse them of editorializing, of being condescending to my language and culture. Yes, it’s technically a mistake, but it’s a mistake that has been deeply internalized by the language—which means internalized by the people who speak the language.

Mistakes in grammar and syntax happen, but it’s up to the whole to decide what to do with it. This is the same reason why so many stores have a sign saying the express checkout lane accepts «5 items or less». This is the same reason why pointing out that mistake is sometimes seen as asshole-ish. It might be gramatically incorrect, but as Stephen Fry says, «there is no doubt what ‘five items or less’ means, just as only a dolt can’t tell from the context and from the age and education of the speaker, whether ‘disinterested’ is used in the ‘proper’ sense of non-partisan, or in the ‘improper’ sense of uninterested.» (2008)

So yes, refried beans are not beans that are fried twice, but they are so named nevertheless. That is not important. Culturally, it’s richer to see it as a quirk of Spanish, as an accident that happened long ago and now it’s a regular part of the cultural landscape, don’t you think?

The lesson here, if there is any to gain, is to remember that: faithfulness to the source and honesty to the reader. Our very interconnected world will surely be better if we remember that.

I don’t include a recipe because there really isn’t one. The basic idea—and the most common way I’ve seen and known—is to just take already cooked beans, mash them and cook them in lard1 to get a uniform, spreadable paste. If your beans are correctly cooked, you shouldn’t need any spices at all beyond salt to make adjustments.2

In my experience, the most common ingredients to add are, in no special order:

  • Chopped onion, fried until they become just a bit translucent,
  • Chorizo or longaniza (any of which doubles as a source of oil)
  • Jalapeño or other spicy pepper, chopped or sliced

If any one of these are added, they’re often cooked in the pan before the beans are introduced. The exact end consistency will depend on your particular taste, but it’s often advised to leave it just a little more humid if they are to be reheated later. Alternatively, when reheating, one could add a splash or two of water or milk to avoid the whole thing getting disgustingly dry.

Serve with totopos (tortilla chips) as an excellent side dish of most anything else. Also, use them as another layer in your torta or sandwich, you can thank me later.


  1. If you ask me, the use of lard is crucial to this point. Lard imparts its own flavor to the dish, which is why many people, myself included will use it if possible. A more neutral oil—like sunflower or canola—is a good candidate and butter is—to my palate—the worst option to make the dish, but of course the ultimate decision lies on whoever is cooking.

  2. chancel’s addition of spices such as cumin and cayenne pepper is very much not traditional to (central) Mexico and is culturally closer to the cuisine of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and such.

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