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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

In Yucatán, Mondays were made for frijol con puerco

The beginning of the workweek has always been associated with this rich, savory version of beans and pork — and not the stuff out of a can

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.

Mondays in Yucatán are all about frijol con puerco. This traditional pork, rice, and bean dish is much-beloved across the state.

But you are unlikely to find it on any restaurant’s menu — though on occasion it can be found in cocinas económicas.

Frijol con puerco is one of Yucatán’s most beloved dishes and a frequent request for those returning home from abroad on holidays. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Why exactly this is the case remains a mystery, as much more “exotic” dishes such as relleno negro and papadzules are common fare. Perhaps restaurateurs are of the opinion that a dish with a name that literally translates as “pork and beans” sounds a little too basic. The problem is certainly not presentation, as a well-served dish of frijol con puerco is a true feast of colors.  

Aside from being delicious, frijol con puerco is quite healthy as it combines generous servings of protein, with legumes and carbohydrates — just make sure your pork is nice and lean. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The most common explanation of why frijol con puerco is traditionally enjoyed on Mondays has to do with the fact that before the invention of refrigeration, dishes containing large amounts of meat were typically eaten early in the week to avoid spoilage. As pork tends to go bad quickly and most people would butcher animals on weekends, this makes perfect sense. Then again, it may just be to keep the Monday blues at bay. 

When eating frijol con puerco, many Yucatecos don’t bother with spoons or forks, choosing to eat up the delicious dish by making a triangular-shaped scoop out of their tortillas. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The exact origin of this dish is hard to discern, but it is widely believed that it was introduced to the Peninsula by enslaved people from Cuba or South America. But whatever its origin, it is clear that the dish evolved its own Yucatecan character with the use of local ingredients.

A large slice of Yucatecan avocado is a must on any respectable serving of frijol con puerco. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

In essence, frijol con puerco is a type of stew made of whole black beans, bean broth, rice, pork, and a variety of garnishes including cilantro, radish, and onions. In some households, the rice is served white without cooking it in the bean broth, but quite frankly, this is pure blasphemy. 

Frijol con puerco is so popular among Yucatecos that it has over the years become a source of local pride, inspiring everything from T-shirts reading “Lunes de frijol con puerco,” to questionable pork-and-bean ice cream flavors. Photo: Courtesy

Yucatecan chiltomate is also essential to a proper serving of frijol con puerco. This most Yucatecan of tomato sauces is made by charring tomato, adding garlic, chile habanero, salt, onion, cilantro, and sour orange — all mixed with a mortar and pestle. 

Homemade chiltomate is a must when serving frijol con puerco, its absence would surely be noted. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

In many ways, frijol con puerco is the ultimate Yucatecan homestyle dish. So unless you are willing to give it a try yourself, your best bet is to ask Yucatecan friends to have you over for lunch on Monday.

Homemade habanero sauce is typically also served alongside frijol con puerco, not inside the dish itself to allow each person to choose their preferred level of heat. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

But if you are interested in trying your hand at this local delicacy, here is the recipe to get you started.  

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg of pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 250-gram strip of pork ribs
  • 1 kg of whole uncooked black beans
  • epazote (also known as Jesuit’s tea, Mexican-tea)
  • salt to taste

Ingredients for chiltomate (Yucatecan cooked tomato sauce): 

  • 6 ripe roasted roma tomatoes
  • 1 clove of roasted garlic
  • 2 or 3 roasted chile habaneros
  • chopped raw cilantro
  • salt

Garnishes:

  • local avocado (the large variety, not Hass)
  • fresh corn tortillas
  • chopped onion
  • chopped cilantro
  • chopped radish
  • chopped fresh cilantro and mint
  • limes (limon indio)

For the rice with beans:

  • 2 cups of washed white rice (not whole grain)
  • 4 cups of black bean broth and 1/2 cup black beans (take these from the pot of cooked beans and pork)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 4 whole peeled cloves of garlic 
  • salt

Preparation 

Soak the black beans in water overnight. When ready to cook, drain off the water and rinse. Place the clean beans in a 6-quart soup pot of water, cover, and bring to a boil. At that point, add 2T. salt and 5 sprigs of epazote. Continue boiling until the beans are starting to get soft. Add the cubed pork and ribs, and keep boiling until the beans are well-cooked (about 1 1/2 hours) Remove the bits of epazote.

Rice with beans

Place the rice in a strainer and rinse it under a stream of cold water. Let it dry. Pour a little cooking oil into a heavy-bottomed pan and saute the garlic and onion until translucent, add the rice, and continue to saute until the rice starts to look crispy, then add the hot bean broth and whole beans. Lower the heat, cover, and let cook until all liquid has been absorbed.

Chiltomate

Char the tomatoes, onion, garlic, and habaneros. When well-blackened, mash all together except the habaneros. Put the tomato sauce in a bowl and arrange the charred habaneros on top. 

Garnishes

Chop the onion, radishes, cilantro, and fresh mint finely. Arrange all on a serving plate along with several limes cut in half. 

Prepare a second plate with slices of Yucatecan avocado.

To serve

In the middle of the table, place the bowls of rice, chiltomate, the plates of garnishes and a basket of fresh hot corn tortillas. 

Serve each person a bowl (3/4 full) of the bean broth and meat. They can then serve themselves from the dishes in the center of the table.

You’ll see lots of happy faces. You will have left-over broth and beans that can be pureed and made into frijol colado — strained beans — which is a recipe for another day.

Nothing beats using ingredients from your own backyard, so why not get a little habanero going? They are quite easy to tend to. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

With assistance from Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado

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