How to Make the Best Cuban Black Beans of Your Life
Beans and rice are a staple dish of so many cuisines, from Cajun-style red beans and rice to Indian Rajma Pulao. There’s a reason for that—beans and rice is a dish that’s hearty, cheap, and can feed a lot of people. It can also be a way to experiment with new spices, use up whatever vegetables you have in the fridge, and stretch just a little bit of meat a long way. Plus, if you make it at home, you can freeze the extra and have a satisfying meal at the ready whenever you need it.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t better and worse ways to make beans and rice. For instance, if you’re making Cuban black beans and rice, you’re probably going to want to follow a few simple guidelines. Ricardo Barreras, the owner of Pilar Cuban Eatery in Brooklyn, a restaurant dedicated to serving traditional Cuban food with carefully sourced ingredients, makes black beans by the gallon for his customers every week, and he has some tips on how to make sure you get all that you need out of your Cuban black beans.
It’s All About the Sofrito
Like French mirepoix or the Cajun trinity, a sofrito is the backbone of so much of Cuban cuisine. Traditionally you make it by cooking down peppers, garlic, and onions. Different sofritos can also include tomatoes, oregano, and bay leaf, and bacon, chorizo, or ham. For Cuban black beans, chorizo is the meat of choice, but make sure that you’re using Spanish chorizo, not Mexican chorizo, for the traditional flavor.
Don’t Undercook Them
“If the beans are soupy, I know that they haven’t been cooked enough,” Barreras told me. The beans might seem to be cooked all the way through, but until they cling to the spoon, they’re not there yet. Keep simmering them. At the end, if the liquid that the beans are in isn’t thick enough, you can mash some of them to make it more of a stew.
Watch Your Spices
You can add whatever you want to your pot of beans, of course, but if you’re keeping it traditional Cuban-style, don’t go too hard on the spices. At Pilar, Barreras depends on a relatively pared down spice cabinet: oregano, black pepper, and cumin. And not too much cumin, either—just a touch, or it’ll overwhelm the dish.
Make Them in Advance
Beans, like many braises, are better the day after you make them. Of course, if you can’t wait, they’ll taste good the same day, too. But if you let them rest overnight, the flavors will meld together and the liquid will thicken further, allowing the black beans to attain their truest, most glorious form.
Use the Right Kind of Rice
Barreras took trouble to seek out the kind of rice that Cubans traditionally use in their black beans and rice. It’s called bomba rice, and it’s a very short grain rice—it almost looks like little spheres. If you’re very serious about finding it, you can look for it online, but even if you’re just going with what you can find at your local supermarket, try a short grain rice like a sushi rice rather than a longer grained one like jasmine or basmatic.
Wash the Rice Really, Really Well
Another thing that people often get wrong about Cuban beans and rice? You don’t want the rice to be sticky at all, and that means removing the starch that was clinging to the outside of the grains. You do that by washing the rice repeatedly before starting to cook it. “You want to rinse the rice until the water runs clear,” Barreras notes.
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