I’m probably one of only a few home cooks who has ever reduced a recipe for Red Beans and Rice to writing. Most recipes like these are created and passed on stove-side by moms, dads, grandparents and other relatives. And while the general ingredients and instructions are neatly tucked away in their memory banks, the specifics rarely make it to paper. That’s typical of many family recipes. But as I’ve said before, it’s important to get these culinary treasures down on paper so your kids and grandkids can at least have a roadmap to follow when they’re ready to start cooking on their own. Although I’ve finally committed my recipe to ink, I’m keeping the “Wite-Out” close at hand. I never know when the spirit might move me to add a little more of this or substitute some of that. Red beans are so flexible and forgiving, it’s hard to leave well-enough alone!
My ideal pot starts with Camellia red kidney beans. Camellia Brand® is a New Orleans company specializing in beans, peas and lentils. I know I’m partial, but their products, especially their dry red beans, are second to none. They just cook up softer and creamier than any other brand. If you can’t find them in your area, you can order them online or simply use your favorite brand. For maximum flavor, I infuse the beans with the Trinity (onions, celery and green bell pepper), a generous mix of spices and a bunch of pork.
Pickle meat (brined pork shoulder also known as pickled pork), and andouille sausage are my top pig picks, but a leftover ham bone, smoked ham hocks and any good quality smoked pork sausage make respectable substitutes.
One thing to keep in mind when cooking dried red beans–they’re really hard! So they need to soak (this will also reduce the cooking time by about a third). If you skip this step, you may end up with a mess of mealy beans and starchy broth. Simply stick them in a bowl of cold water and let them sit overnight. If you’re in a hurry, quick-soak them by placing the beans in a pot of cold water and boiling them for about three minutes. When the three minutes are up, take the pot off the fire, cover it and let the beans sit in the cooking water for one hour. I don’t drain my beans after they’ve soaked. I pour the beans and the “bean liquor” into the pot with the rest of the ingredients to take advantage of that intense red bean flavor that leaches out while they’re soaking. This goes against conventional wisdom, but it works for me.
Oh, one last thing. Cooked red beans improve with time. The longer they sit in the refrigerator (within reason of course) the tastier and creamier they’ll become. So if they’re cooked on Sunday, the day most of us tend to have a little more time to prepare slow-cooked meals like these, they’ll be perfect on Monday. That’s the day Red Beans and Rice are customarily eaten in New Orleans.
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon black pepper
Red Beans and Rice Recipe
1 pound dried red kidney beans (preferably Camellia Brand)
2 tablespoons bacon fat or canola oil
1 pound andouille sausage, sliced thin
2 medium onions, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound pickle meat (pickled pork)
8 cups water
5 cups cooked rice
Rinse beans thoroughly to remove excess dirt; pick over for stones. Place beans in a large bowl; cover with cold water and soak overnight. In a large, heavy pot, heat bacon fat or canola oil. Add sausage; sauté until brown on both sides. Add onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic; sauté until tender. Add seasoning mix; stir. Add soaked beans and liquid (“bean liquor”), pickle meat and water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring often, until beans are tender. Add additional water, if needed, to keep beans from scorching. Towards the end of the cooking time, mash some of the beans against the side of the pot with the back of a spoon (this will help create a creamy consistency). Adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve over hot cooked rice with lots of French bread and hot sauce options. Serves 8-10.