Wednesday, February 17, 2010

News to me: "Refried beans"

I didn't think about it when I lived in San Diego, eating Mexican combo platters as routinely as we eat pizza in the East. I didn't think about it back when I was copyediting the food section of the Boston Globe. Decades have passed, and now, at last, Trader Joe's has answered the question I was always too dim to ask: Why do we call them "refried beans"? Are they really fried twice? 

Apparently not. According to the Fearless Flyer that arrived in today's mail, the name results from a mistranslation: "In colloquial Mexican Spanish, the prefix re is often used to mean 'very.' So frijoles refritos should actually translate to very fried beans, not refried beans." A number of  other websites say the same, and concurs, citing Diana Kennedy's "Cuisines of Mexico." (Kennedy's a reliable source, or at least she was in my food editing days.) So until I hear otherwise, I'm accepting that refried beans are fried only once.

I also wondered (at long last) why the beans needed to be fried even once, since they can be simmered and mashed into the desired state of submission without the skillet treatment. But now that I've looked up a few recipes, I think I understand.

1 comment:

David Fried said...

This use of the prefix "re" as an intensifier is not confined to Mexican Spanish, and there are even stronger forms, "rete-" and "requete-." Another food example is "rellenos," as in "chiles rellenos." "Lleno" means "full" or "filled"; "relleno" means "stuffed." "Chiles rellenos" are thus "stuffed chile peppers."