Cowboy Beans

Pot beans, i.e. beans cooked on top of the stove instead of baked in the oven, are a staple of Mexican cooking and in many other cuisines they show up in various guises from Cajun red beans and rice to Brazilian fejoada. The traditional method of preparing the beans calls for an overnight soaking and long simmering making them something less than a spur of the moment dish. Enter the pressure cooker. With it you can go from a bag of dried beans to a tasty meal in less than an hour including preparation time. Just add a grain like rice or corn, some vegetables, and perhaps a bit of meat for a balanced, nutritious dish. And a pressure cooker, especially an electric one, is energy efficient. What’s not to like?

Every pressure cooker comes with a list of cooking times for various beans. And if all you want to do is cook some beans that list will serve. But I found with a bit of experimentation that producing an outstanding bean dish takes a bit more work. In the traditional simmered version one sautés meat and vegetables as a flavor base for the beans. You could do that in a pressure cooker as well but I found that the vegetables lose their texture when cooked that long at high temperature. Also, cooking the beans with salt for the entire time tends to toughen them. So I split the pressure cooking into two stages: the first with the beans alone; the second with the flavorings and seasonings. The process goes like this for Mexican cowboy beans:


  • 1 pound dried pinto beans
  • 4 ounces slab or thick-sliced bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño chile, minced (optional but recommended)
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt


Rinse the beans and pick over for any small stones or discolored beans. Place in the pressure cooker and cover with 8 quarts of cold water. Cook at high pressure (15 psi) for 15 minutes timing from when the cooker reaches full pressure. At the end of the cooking release the pressure according to manufacturer’s instructions and drain the beans reserving the cooking liquid.

While the beans are cooking render the bacon in a frying pan over medium-high heat for a few minutes then add the onions and peppers. Turn the heat down a bit, to medium, and sauté until the vegetables are softened. Add the garlic, tomatoes, and seasonings. Cook for another 2 or 3 minutes until well combined.

(If you are making rice as an accompaniment put it on now.)

Return the beans to the pressure cooker along with the meat and vegetables. Stir to mix well. Pour in enough reserved cooking liquid to just barely cover the beans. Cook on high pressure for 10 minutes, again timing from when the cooker reaches full pressure. Since pressure cookers vary you may need to lengthen this cooking a bit.  At the end of the cooking time allow you can either release the pressure right away or let it sit for a few minutes.


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