Learn how to make canned refried beans taste like restaurant style beans with a few simple tricks. Instead of a thick plop of canned beans, serve smooth, creamy, delicious refried beans.
Open a can of refried beans. What do you see? A big glop of thick brown beans. Nothing like the textured, beautifully creamy refried beans served at your favorite Mexican restaurant.
If you crave restaurant-style refried beans at home but don’t have time to start from scratch with dry pinto beans, don’t worry. You can learn how to make canned refried beans taste like restaurant style with just a few little secrets.
The best way to make canned refried beans taste like restaurant style beans is to thin the canned beans with cream. Add extra spices cooked in fat and garnish with cheese, cilantro, and jalapenos.
Hard? No. Time-consuming? Not even close.
Essential Tips to Transform the Canned Version into Professional Beans
The best refried bean recipe starts with dry pinto beans and spices cooked in a slow cooker or an Instant Pot. The cooked beans are then smashed with a potato masher or immersion blender. This dance takes a lot of time and is not always practical.
Fortunately, a couple of steps transforms the canned stuff into a recipe worthy of your favorite restaurant.
Tip #1: Thin out the beans.
The beans in a can of refried beans are thick. Very thick. They plop out into the pan. Even after you heat them on the stove, they stay thick.
They are nothing like the beans in your favorite Mexican restaurant. Their refried beans are thin and sometimes even a little runny. How many times have you dipped tortilla chips into your side of refried beans? All the time, right?
The most important thing you can do to improve your canned beans is to thin them out. If you follow only one tip, let it be this one.
Thin the beans. THIN THE BEANS. Yes, it was worth repeating. Everything else is icing on the cake.
So how can you thin out canned refried beans? Easy. Add a liquid. Any liquid will thin out the beans, including water, vegetable or chicken broth, milk, half and half, cream, and buttermilk.
Even semi-liquids like sour cream and crema will reduce the thickness of the beans.
How much liquid should you add? Add a minimum of 1 cup of liquid for every 30-ounce can of refried beans. That is the medium-sized can.
After you add the liquid and heat the beans, stir it all together and evaluate the consistency. Maybe you need more liquid. Don’t overdo it, but if you need more, add it.
Tip #2: Make the beans creamy.
If you want your canned refried beans to taste more like Mexican restaurants than a fast food restaurant, like Taco Bell, choose a creamy liquid to thin the beans.
Although I have added water, milk, and half and half with good results, my favorite liquid to add to refried beans is heavy cream. It will give the beans a creamy consistency you find in really good Mexican food.
Cream is rich, buttery, and the epitome of creamy. The best part is that heavy cream does not add any sourness to the beans the way sour cream or buttermilk does.
If you need to lighten the dish, use milk or half and half. Both will give you good results.
I do not recommend sour cream or buttermilk because of the way they alter the taste of the beans.
Cream cheese adds richness. However, because it is so thick, you often need to add another liquid in addition to the cream cheese. Too much of a hassle.
Just add cream and you are on your way to restaurant style beans.
Tip #3: Add some fat for mouthfeel.
The best refried beans have a little fat. When restaurants make refried beans, they add fat. Fat gives flavor and a good mouthfeel to the beans.
Animal fat like bacon fat or bacon grease, lard, or butter are common in refried beans. So is olive oil or vegetable oil.
I like butter or olive oil because I usually have both around. If I have recently cooked bacon in the oven and have bacon drippings, that is tasty also.
What should you do with the fat? Glad you asked. Look at tip #4 for the answer.
Tip #4: Bloom the spices in the fat.
Restaurant style refried beans have just the right amount of spice to be a peppy side dish or a good filling for a burrito.
But how can you get the spices to taste so good with the beans? It is all in the blooming.
To bloom a spice, you cook it for a few minutes in the fat. This releases the spice oils and enhances the flavor of the spice.
What spices should you bloom? Ground cumin or whole seeds, chili powder, cayenne pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.
What else can you cook in the fat at the same time? Smashed garlic cloves and sliced jalapenos.
If you are aiming for fat-free beans, add extra spice to compensate for the missing flavor of fat.
Tip #5: Garnish like a pro.
A Mexican restaurant will never bring you a plop of beans in a bowl. They garnish with cheese, jalapenos, salsa, and cilantro, among other foods. You do not need all these garnishes. But using one or two will help transform your canned refried beans into restaurant style.
I recommend starting with cheese. Use shredded cheddar cheese or crumbled cotija cheese. This adds interest and flavor to the beans.
Snip some cilantro leaves on top or add some jalapeno slices for some color.
Now that you have learned tips for creating restaurant style refried beans out of canned beans, let’s go over the easiest order to do things.
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How to Make Canned Refried Beans Taste Like Restaurant Style
Step 1. Heat the oil or fat in a medium saucepan or large skillet over medium-high heat.
Step 2. When the hot oil begins to sizzle, add the spices. Reduce to medium heat.
Step 3. Cook, stirring for a couple of minutes, or until the spices begin to bloom and give off a nice aroma.
Step 4. Add the smashed garlic cloves and sliced jalapenos, if using. Cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
Step 5. Open a 30-ounce can of refried beans. Stir the beans into the fat and spices.
Step 6. Pour 1 cup of heavy cream (or the liquid of your choice) into the beans. Stir ingredients.
Step 7. Cover with a lid. Heat over medium-low heat for 5 to 6 minutes. The beans should start to heat and the cream bubble.
Step 8. Take off the lid and stir to incorporate the cream into the beans. It will be hard to stir in the cream until the beans start to warm up. Add more liquid, if necessary. Replace the lid.
Step 9. Turn the heat to low. Cook for another 5 minutes. When the beans seem hot and bubbly, add a splash of lime juice and stir again. When the cream is completely stirred into the beans, replace the lid and heat for 2 minutes.
Step 10. Remove from the heat. Place in a serving bowl.
Step 11. Garnish with shredded cheese, minced cilantro, and sliced jalapenos.
Step 12. Serve with additional toppings such as fat free sour cream, Old El Paso salsa, guacamole, and tortilla chips.
Use the Microwave to Make Canned Refried Beans Taste Like Restaurant Style
Maybe you do not need a lot of beans. That is fine. You can still make restaurant quality beans with a small can of beans.
- Spoon the canned beans into a microwaveable bowl.
- Add ½ cup of cream, milk, or half and half. Stir.
- Microwave for 1½ minutes.
- Remove from the microwave. Then add your spices and stir.
- Return to the microwave and heat for another 1½ minutes, or until the beans are hot and the cream can be easily stirred into them.
- Garnish and serve.
What to Serve with Creamy Restaurant Style Beans
- This restaurant style refried beans recipe makes the perfect side dish for burritos.
- Stuff the beans in your Taco Bell bean burrito and serve it with a side of Mexican rice on Tex Mex night.
- Serve as a side to breakfast tacos.
- Use the refried beans in 7-layer dip.
- Layer it on a tortilla to make Mexican pizza.
Now that you know how to transform canned refried beans into restaurant style, you are ready to impress your family with this simple dish.
Restaurant-Style Refried Beans (from canned refried beans)
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil or use butter, bacon fat, or lard
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder or 2 smashed garlic cloves
- ¼ teaspoon chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ teaspoon oregano
- Sliced jalapeno optional
- 1 30 oz. can of refried beans
- 1 to 1½ cups of heavy cream or use half and half, milk, chicken broth, or water
- juice from ½ a lime
- HEAT the oil or fat in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
- ADD the spices when the hot oil begins to sizzle. Reduce to medium heat.
- STIR and cook in the hot oil for about 3 minutes.
- ADD the smashed garlic cloves and sliced jalapenos, if using. Cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
- OPEN a 30-ounce can of refried beans. Stir the beans into the fat and spices.
- POUR 1 cup of heavy cream (or the liquid of your choice) into the beans. Stir ingredients.
- COVER with a lid. Heat over medium-low heat for 5 to 6 minutes. The beans should start to heat and the cream bubble.
- TAKE off the lid and stir to incorporate the cream into the beans. It will be hard to stir in the cream until the beans start to warm up. Add more liquid, if necessary. Replace the lid.
- TURN the heat to low. Cook for another 5 minutes. When the beans are hot and bubbly, add a splash of lime juice and stir again. When the cream is completely stirred into the beans, replace the lid and heat for 2 minutes.
- REMOVE from the heat. Place in a serving bowl.
- GARNISH with shredded cheese, minced cilantro, and sliced jalapenos.
- SERVE with additional toppings such as fat free sour cream, salsa, guacamole, and tortilla chips.
- Microwave Instructions
- SPOON the canned beans into a microwaveable bowl.
- ADD ½ cup of cream, milk, or half and half. Stir.
- MICROWAVE for 1½ minutes.
- REMOVE from the microwave. Then add your spices and stir.
- RETURN to the microwave and heat for another 1½ minutes, or until the beans are hot and the cream can be easily stirred into them.
- GARNISH and serve.