One of the things that changes when you become a haggard, grayfaced grownup is how you spend New Year's Eve. When you were a hip, attractive, energetic young person, you spent the night traipsing between crowded, noisy bars, meeting interesting people and talking excitedly about your plans for the future, and your whole goddamn life was like a sexy neon-lit music video, and you were immune from consequences, and, God, you were just the fucking worst. Now you're old, and the overwhelming odds are that you'll spend the evening at a similarly old friend's home with fellow exhausted parents, desperately fighting to stay awake so you can feel if only for a fleeting moment as though your entire life were not the property of your job and/or kids.
One way to support this (vain, doomed) mission is to supply the festivities with some food, both because food enables you to drink more alcohol before becoming too drunk to keep your eyes open, and for the lesser reason that food supplies your body with the chemical energy it requires in order to remain alive. These are the things you now have to concern yourself with, because you are old.
People will bring all manner of dips and such to the party: There will be that unpleasant-looking but tasty spinach and faux-crab dip served in the bowl of Hawaiian bread; there will be guacamole; there will be a tub of sour-cream-and-onion dip and a bag of potato chips; some bozo will bring a jar of Old El Paso queso dip as if that weren't ridiculous and kind of insulting. All of these are perfectly tasty—the only real problem with all of them is that they are not refried-bean dip.
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So that's what you're going to bring. What makes homemade bean dip such a great choice for New Year's Eve is that it is simultaneously loaded with protein (which will give you energy for remaining conscious), heavy and hearty and absorbent (which will stave off drunkenness), and fucking delicious (which will make you happy). These winning qualities are only slightly mitigated by the fact that it is also a miserable fucking chore to make. We'll address that in a bit.
The first thing you need to do is to soak a pound of pinto or black beans (but really: pinto beans) overnight in a large bowl filled with enough water to cover the beans by a couple of inches. In the morning, you'll be able to tell that the beans are sufficiently soaked by the agonized groaning noise and throat-blistering surge of profanity you will utter when you realize that you altogether forgot this step. Now, remove your still bone-dry and utterly un-soaked beans from their unmolested bag, cover them with a couple of inches of water in a pot, boil them for a couple of minutes, and then remove the pot from the heat and leave the beans to soak in it for an hour and a half.
Ninety minutes have passed; the beans have softened enough that you can crush one between your index finger and thumb while rhetorically asking it who's the fucking boss now huh you little fucker. Drain all the water out of the pot. This is an important step in all bean preparations, even the ones in which you drain this water out and then just replace it with more water, which at first pass seems like an awfully silly thing to do. Draining this water out of the beans before you cook them will prevent them from magically turning your lower gastrointestinal tract into a German tuba quartet.
So you've drained out the liquid that was covering your beans, and now you are going to complete the fairly ridiculous, Sisyphean-seeming step of ... covering them with more liquid. To ameliorate the creeping sense that you are being jerked around, and because it's what should be done with all things, this time you are going to cover your beans with cheap, shitty beer. As with the water, you want enough beer to submerge the beans a good inch or two beneath the surface.
Now, stick the pot back on the hot stove, bring the beer to a boil, lower the heat to bring it back down to a low but steady simmer, and simmer the beans for two hours. I'd love to be able to tell you to go do something fun with your couple of hours, but the truth is, you're going to have to stay reasonably close by. That's because as the beans simmer, they're going to absorb a lot of liquid, and some of the liquid will evaporate, and this will most likely necessitate adding more liquid occasionally, to keep the beans submerged. I hope you have a good paperback book to read.
(A note here: If you have enough beer to use beer for these periodic replenishments of the liquid in the pot, bully for you. However, you're not going to go to prison if you use water or broth instead, unless you are going to prison, in which case you are going to go to prison. In any event, even if you run out of beer and have to replenish your liquid with water or broth, your beans are still going to absorb a lot of beer, and they're still going to taste better because of it. On the other hand, if you use more beer, voila, they're gonna taste more like beer. It's not magic.)
Your beans are simmering gently in their pot and you've got a couple of hours to spend not going very far away from your stove or getting too deeply embroiled in anything outside of your kitchen. Great! You're going to devote at least a little bit of this time to the at-first-tedious-seeming-but-then-actually-not-because-you're-going-to-eat-a-lot-of-bacon step of cooking, like, an entire pound of bacon so that you can render, collect, and set aside a lot of liquefied bacon fat. However much you get out of however much bacon you can force yourself to cook before sighing petulantly, rolling your eyes, and saying aloud to yourself, "Fuck, whatever, that's gotta be enough." You should stop if you have two cups' worth; you may stop if you have at least half a cup's worth. (And, hey, it's none of my business, but it's going to be kind of gross and unattractive if you eat all of the bacon you cook along the way. So, um, don't tell anybody that you did that, even though you totally did, because you totally will, because you're a monster.)
Two hours have gone by; you've made good use of your time by collecting a bunch of liquid bacon fat; your beans are now very soft. They smash easily if you press them against the inside of the pot with a fork. Remove the pot from the heat; leave the beans and the liquid inside of it; grab a potato masher (or, if you don't have one of those, a sturdy fork instead); mash the hell out of the contents of the pot. You're not aiming for perfect smoothness, here, or anything like it, but you do want to give the beans a thorough mashing—to the point at which your pot no longer contains beans and also water, but rather a spectacularly unappetizing integrated watery beany mixture. This is an opportunity for you to discharge some of the pent-up hostility you are undoubtedly feeling after the draining-and-refilling step and the cooking-a-ton-of-bacon step and the hanging-around-a-simmering-pot-of-fucking-beans-all-goddamn-afternoon step and the reckoning-with-the-end-of-another-wasted-year-of-your-life step. Really give it to those beans. They have it coming. For what they did.
Done mashing? Great. Set this pot and its savaged contents aside for a few minutes, to lurk in the corner of your vision steaming and vaguely suggestive of a bucket of vomit. In a big, heavy skillet with deep sides, or a heavy-bottomed pot (and be honest with yourself, here: if you have a genuinely big skillet with deep sides, use it; if you do not, use a pot, because you do not want scalding hot bean paste slopping over the sides of your not-big-or-deep-enough skillet, burning your hands, and turning into concrete on your stovetop, unless that is something you do want, in which case you are probably not allowed to use a stove in the first place), heat up your reserved bacon fat and cook some chopped onions, chopped garlic, and chopped jalapeño in it.
When your onions, garlic, and jalapeños start to turn translucent and soft, it's time to add some spices. Be generous with cumin and salt; be less generous with cayenne pepper. Stir these into the other stuff and keep things moving until the cumin heats up and creates a cloud of bacon-and-onion-and-cumin aroma around your head and all at once saliva is pouring down the front of your shirt and you are making a low, undeniably sexual moaning sound. Grab that steaming pot over in the corner of your vision and dump the bean-mash into the skillet (or pot) with the bacon fat and spices and aromatics.
Snatch up a wooden spoon or rubber spatula and cook all this stuff, stirring and stirring and stirring all the while, for what will turn out to be an annoyingly long time, while it thickens. Eventually you'll have a thick, brown, sticky, passably smooth, wonderful-smelling paste, which you will recognize as refried beans. You will also have an intimidating glower, a vanishingly short fuse, carpal tunnel syndrome, and a New Year's resolution not to make refried beans again anytime soon. Anyway, stir some diced tomatoes (canned is OK) and sriracha into your refried beans, transfer the entire steaming brown mess into a large bowl, top it with some shredded pepper jack cheese, and cover the bowl so that its contents do not turn to stone. By God, you are finished. Sort of.
So you've (fucking finally) made refried-bean dip; now you're gonna schlep this big heavy bowl of the stuff across town from your home (which you cannily burned to the ground rather than clean up the unholy bean-dip mess you left behind), so that you can serve it at a New Year's Eve party. Bring a bunch of cilantro along with you; when you get to your destination, chop some of the cilantro and scatter it attractively across the top of your dip. Serve it with lots and lots and lots of tortilla chips, and cold beer.
There's no way around it: When you first place your bowl on the food table, peel away the aluminum foil or plastic wrap, and are engulfed in a rising cloud of bean-steam, you're going to feel exquisitely dorky and old. Dorky and old and resentful of the entire stupid afternoon you spent making stupid refried-bean dip and this party sucks and I'm tired and we should just go home and let's get some ice cream on the way and we're too old for parties now God I hate being old. This will pass. Not only because your bean dip will absolutely turn out to be the most popular foodstuff at this particular party, but because its heavy, dense beaniness will handily enable you to drink quantities of booze that would otherwise cause you to get vomit on your lampshade, enabling you to have a lot of drinks and a great New Year's Eve and even—gasp!—to recall it afterward.
And this is what you will remember about your refried-bean dip. Not what a punishing pain in the ass it was to make, but what a joy it was to eat, what a good friend it was to your partying efforts. This is why you will make it again, and why you will eventually forget how fucking annoying it is the next time, too.
Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. Peevishly correct his foolishness at email@example.com. Top image by Jim Cooke.