Its Monday; I’m making Red Beans & Rice!
Up until this last trip to the Big Easy, I was pretty sure I didn’t like Red Beans & Rice. I certainly don’t like beans. But TB & I did a lunch demonstration class at the New Orleans School of Cooking. It was a Monday. And the red beans & rice were… tasty?! Rich, and creamy, and ready to redefine comfort food for me.
Since returning home, I’ve dug up every RB&R recipe I can find, and truth be told, the only “secret” to making this seems to: take your time. I can do that.
Red Beans & Rice was originally a laundry-day dish — something that could be put on the fire in the morning, and left to simmer all day while the laundry was being done. The beans were frequently flavoured with a ham hock, left over from Sunday dinner. ((If the left over ham hocks weren’t going to be used the next day, they might be pickled for longer keeping. Using a pickled ham hock lends the final dish a distinctive vinegar-y taste, which is considered quintessential in some, though not all, circles.)) You could skip the ham hock all together, and use some other pork product (sausage, bacon, etc.), but you’ll miss out on all the collagen-goodness.
Everyone recommends soaking the beans overnight first, though the reasoning varies — it may or may not reduce the final cooking time, improve the creaminess of the beans, or reduce the flatulence-factor. CI suggests that salting the water first improves the flavour; who am I to argue?
THE NIGHT BEFORE * soak 1 pound of dry kidney beans in salted water over night
As in French cooking, anything that’s simmered in a pot begins with a mirepoix. Because carrots don’t grow well in Louisiana, the Cajun mirepoix (or trinity) is onion, celery, and bell pepper. The traditional ratio (by weight) is 2 parts onion to 1 part each celery & pepper, but you can adjust based on your taste or what’s in your crisper. If you want the vegetables to disappear into the sauce, chop everything finely (brunoise). If you want to be able to see them in the final dish, chop them more coarsely.
THE MORNING OF * dice 1 onion, 1 bell pepper, and 3 ribs of celery
We’re going to sauté the trinity, so first we need some fat in our pan. You can use whatever is handy — oil, butter, (firm) smoked pork sausage, bacon, etc. Pork, obviously, will give you more flavour. If you are using straight fat, just heat it in the pan before adding the vegetables. If you are using a fatty meat, sauté the meat until a quantity of fat is rendered before adding the vegetables. If you are using fatty bacon, cook the bacon until nearly all of the fat is rendered and the bacon is crispy.
* dice 4 slices of bacon, and sauté in a large dutch oven or stock pot until fat has rendered, and the bacon is crispy * add the trinity, and sauté until the vegetables are soft
Now that we’ve got our flavour base ready, its time to cook the beans. Some people cook them separately, and then add them to the pot at the end. That means dirtying another pot, and cooking the beans without seasoning for the first hour. I figure, since they’re going to simmer with everything for an hour or two anyway, and cooking the beans is just simmering them in some sort of liquid, why not combine those into the same step?
Drain your beans (rinse them, if you do that sort of thing), and add them to the pot, along with your cooking liquid (water, stock, etc), plus whatever additional seasoning you want to use. Garlic, thyme, bay leaves “creole seasoning mix”, tabasco are all traditional. Extra umami won’t hurt — soya sauce or worcestershire. If you like the tang of pickled ham hock, but aren’t actually using a pickled ham hock, a splash of red wine vinegar will get you there. If you want to add any additional sausage, now’s the time.
* slice 4 cloves of garlic, and add to vegetables, sautéing until aromatic * drain beans, and add to pot * throw 1 whole (pickled or smoked) ham hock in the pot * season with 2 bay leaves, dried thyme, worcestershire sauce, creole seasoning, tabasco, and red wine vinegar * slice and add a pound of andouille or smoked polish sausage * add enough water to cover by 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, reduce to a low simmer, and let sit for 3 hours, or until beans are creamy, stirring occasionally to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom<
The only danger at this point is that things might stick & burn at the bottom of your pot. Every time you go to stir, first tap your spoon on the bottom of the pot, to ensure that nothing has built up there. If something has, don’t scrape it off — its very likely burned, and scraping it will introduce that burned taste to the rest of the pot. Instead, get a fresh pot, and carefully pour everything that’s not stuck to the bottom of your old pot into the new one. Then either stir more frequently, or reduce your heat, to prevent things from sticking again. You want to keep simmering until the beans turn creamy, and enough have broken down that they’ve formed a reddish-brown gravy in the pot. If you’re beans are old, they might not get there. In which case, you can cheat by running or cup or two of beans through the blender, and then re-introducing them to the pot.
Ideally, it will be done several hours before you want to serve them. If so, take the beans off the heat, let them cool, and then refrigerate. This is one of those dishes that tastes better after its sat and been reheated. When re-heating, you may need to add some water to loosen things up.
10 minutes before you’re ready to serve, you may optionally stir in some butter to make the beans even creamier. Taste, and adjust any other seasonings at this point as well. Remember, though, that red beans & rice should not be served spicy; instead, bottled hot sauce should be provided on the table.
* flake meat off of the ham hock, and mix back into the pot * serve over cooked white rice.
If there’s not a lot of meat in your beans, you may also want to serve cooked sausage or pork chops on the side. You can also provide some onion (freshly chopped green, or sliced pickled) as garnish.