Think of New Orleans and immediately you think of Mardi Gras and Food. You can talk about those two topics for a long time, but when I connect those two dots, it simply points to Red Beans and Rice.
Of all the food and cuisines that identify New Orleans, nothing epitomizes the Crescent City culinary culture like Red Beans and Rice. Once and always a Monday tradition, it’s in every home and you shouldn’t be surprised to see it on any restaurant menu in New Orleans or South Louisiana, from fine dining establishments to a neighborhood poboy restaurant. Owing to the Caribbean influences in the diverse local culinary culture, it’s the quintessential Mardi Gras food, a crowd pleaser and basic comfort food. You’ve heard all the folk lore – Mondays are washdays, leftover bone from Sunday’s ham and on and on. I don’t care how it happened, Red Beans and Rice are so good that they earned a revered spot on the weekly food plan for an entire region. Like most Louisiana staples, like Gumbo, Jambalaya and Crawfish Étouffée, everyone has their favorite recipe, most handed down from parents or grandparents. Red Beans and Rice is no different. Honestly, I doubt I’ve ever had a bad dish of RB&B and I hate to let the secret out of the bag – the best recipes are simple and naturally no-angst.
This is What You Need.
Red Beans are kidney beans. A pound of dry beans will feed a decent size crowd. These are nutritious and full of fiber and when you season them with a nice smoky seasoning meat, the trinity of onions, bell peppers and celery, an earthy Herb and Spice blend and toss in a handful of chopped garlic, they’ll cook down to a rich, creamy, smoky pot of goodness.
The seasoning meats are the ingredients that will build the flavor like George Porter laying down a bass line for the Meters. That’s where it all begins. The best seasoning meat is a ham bone with a good bit of meat left on. Smoked ham just seems to be a perfect match for the beans. If that’s not available, a smoked ham hock or even some smoked turkey necks are excellent. The idea is to impart a smoky flavor. To aid in that endeavor, you’ll want to also use some nice, flavorful smoked sausage.
The sausage can be spicy or mild and it adds its flavor to the profile and provides a nice consistency when you eat it. Try to choose a smoked sausage or andouille that have a high fat content so fat renders and adds to the flavor. Experiment with different sausages and you will see what I mean. The trinity is chopped onions, celery and bell peppers and is a foundation ingredient in many south Louisiana dishes. As the vegetables cook down, their natural sugars become part of the flavor. Tie this all together with garlic and a blend of Herbs and Spices.
All because it’s Carnival Ti-i-ime
Whoa, it’s Carnival Time
Oh well, it’s Carnival Time
And everybody’s havin’ fun
Al Johnson’s Carnival Time
This is What You Do.
First…you have a beer. Get in the right frame of mind and putting this together is easy, but you do need to plan a little ahead. I always start by
soaking the dry beans in cold water overnight, trying to soften the beans and reduce the cooking time. If rget to do that, there are a couple of other quicker soaking methods that work fine, or you could skip it all together. No one will cancel Mardi Gras over that. In fact, there is some question if soaking is even necessary or beneficial but I doubt you’ll catch too many old Louisiana cooks not soaking their red beans. If you want to know more about soaking and other bean-centric topics, check out my Lagniappe post on dem beans.
Chop up all your onions, celery, peppers and garlic, then put the Herbs and
Spice Blend together in a small bowl. Set it all aside and you’re ready to go.
You’ll want to slice the sausage into medallions and sauté it in the Dutch oven you will use to cook the beans. Rendering the fat out of the sausage is the first layer of flavor you’ll have. Once the fat has rendered and the sausage has nicely browned, pull it out of the pot with a slotted spoon and set it aside.
Make sure to leave the rendered fat and fond from the sausage in the pot because this is the foundation upon which to build the flavors. Drain the beans that have been soaking and add them to that same Dutch oven, stir them around in the rendered sausage fat getting it all over the beans. Add the seasoning meat and the bay leaves and enough cold water to cover the beans by about an inch. You should see that nice rendered fat floating at the top of the water. That’s some good. Turn up the heat to high and once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat and place the cover on the pot and simmer for about an hour. Good time for another beer. Stir it from time to time so that it doesn’t stick. After that hour, uncover the pot and add back the sausage. Add the veggies, garlic and about 2/3s of the Herb and Spice Blend. Mix everything together and let the beans continue to simmer for 30 minutes, this time uncovered. You’ll need to stir it occasionally so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Add more water to keep the beans covered if you need to.
After 30 minutes, stir well and put the cover back on. Adjust the heat if you need to and simmer it another 30 minutes with the cover on, stirring occasionally. Once this 30 minutes is up, take the cover off and you’re in the home stretch. It should be getting thick and creamy. How’s your beer? Test the beans to see if they are soft enough for you. At this point it may be very near ready but it could take another 30 minutes or so. If the beans are still real tough, it may even take another hour. You’ll just have to keep simmering over low heat until they are soft, adding a little more water if they are getting too thick. If your beans are still hard after for 2 hours, read my Lagniappe post and you may get an idea as to why.
The beans are ready when they are as soft and creamy as you like them. Some folks like a little more liquid, some like them thicker. Taste them now for salt and seasoning. Remember, you haven’t added any salt yet so they will likely be a little bland-you’ll wake them up quickly. Start with about a teaspoon of salt, give them a good stir, taste and add more if you like. Add more of the Herbs and Spice Blend if you want more kick.
Cook some rice and get ready for a treat. One cup of uncooked rice will yield about three cups of cooked rice. Take the bay leaves out, mound up some rice and ladle on some Red Beans. These beans go well with a lot of things- grilled smoked sausage, stuffed bell peppers, hamburger patties, pork chops, fried chicken, fried fish, meatloaf.… anything you can imagine, or they’re great just by themselves.
You can enjoy this New Orleans classic any time you want, and when its Carnival Ti-i-ime, they are extra special. Enjoy!
If you like it, rate it-turn dem stars into beer mugs! And leave me a comment!!
Yeah You Right!