New Orleans Red Beans & Rice
"Me, sexy? I'm just plain ol' beans and rice." Pam Grier
In New Orleans (pronounced NOR-lins), Sunday is traditionally ham night, and on Monday, wash day, the leftover ham and the ham bone are used to make Red Beans and Rice, a traditional Creole stew that can be prepped quickly and, if cooked with dried beans, needs several hours to simmer. It has been thus forever. Even the estimable Louis Armstrong signed his autograph "Red beans and ricely yours".
Among the traditional ingredients are andouille sausage, a ham bone, and pickled pork or ham. Andouille (pronounced on-DWEE) sausage is the spicy local Cajun classic made of coarsely ground pork, chopped onion, garlic, cayenne pepper, salt, cracked black pepper, natural casing, and then it is smoked. The marrow in the ham bone adds flavor and richness. Pickled pork is common in New Orleans, but a little harder to find elsewhere. It is made by boiling cubes of fresh pork in vinegar, spices, and Prague powder #1 (a source of sodium nitrite, a preservative). I have done what most of the locals now do, substituted chopped ham and for the fun of it, tossed in some bacon in my recipe.
When I was a student at the University of Florida, subsisting on hot dogs mixed in a can of baked beans, we would often do weekend road trips to New Orleans, and that's where I had my first taste of the local stew. I can still taste "the world's best Beanie Wienies" as I described it to my friends. It was an early awakening that you could riff on a recipe and make something special.
New Orleans Red Beans & Rice Recipe
Preparation time: About 40 minutes to prepare and 1 to 2 hours to cook
Makes: Enough to serve 4 people about 2 cups each.
Serve with: A green salad, baguette, and Abita beer from New Orleans.
2 (15 ounce) cans of red (kidney) beans (for tips on working with dried beans, click here to read my article, The Science of Beans)
4 strips of bacon
1 cup chopped cured ham
1/2 pound andouille sausage, cut into 1/2" disks
1 smoked ham hock
2 medium onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery, about 4 stalks
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
2 cups low salt chicken broth
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or salad grade balsamic vinegar or lemon juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 1/2 cups uncooked white rice
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 jalape–os, seeds removed, chopped fine
2 roma tomatoes, chopped into 1/2" chunks
About the meats. None of these quantities is set in concrete. You can add more of any, or leave something out. But don't skip the ham bone.
About the bacon. Although it adds flavor, it is here mainly for the oil needed to brown the meats and cook the trinity. You can skip it and just use 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. If you do skip the bacon, try to use a ham hock instead of the ham bone so you can get that smoky flavor.
About the sausage. There is no exact substitute for good andouille, so make a serious effort to find some. If you can't use a smoked sausage such as kielbasa and add a little more hot sauce.
About the cured ham. You can buy a cured ham steak and chop it up or just use leftover ham from Easter.
Optional seasonings. Some folks like to add cumin an/or chile powder, parsley is common, and cilantro is often used. Worcestershire is occasionally added too.
Good ole Zatarains. A reader named Larry Gault says "A little secret I found out about in an odd, out in the middle of the sugar cane field restaurant somewhere between Baton Rouge and Nawlins. I had never been able to get that *just* right taste that these folks did in their little establishment which looked like a sharecropper's shack from the outside but was very nice on the inside. With Colonial Sugar being an account that I called on regularly, I made as close friends with the wonderful old black woman who did their cooking as I possibly could. When I was telling her about my tale of woe in pursuit of the perfect red beans and rice recipe, she looked at me and asked if I was rememberin' to put the two capfuls of Zatarain's Concentrated Liquid Crab & Shrimp Boil in twenty minutes before they were done. Liquid crab boil? Yep. Nails it to the wall. Also zips up soups and gumbos nicely as well."
1) In a 4 quart pot, cook the bacon over medium high heat. When some fat renders, add the sausage and ham, and brown them. If the bottom looks like it might burn, add an ounce or two of water to loosen the meat bits and scrub them off with a wooden spoon. When the water is gone, add the onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, salt, and black pepper and stir occasionally until the vegetables are limp, scraping all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add 2 cups of water, the tomatoes, chicken broth, vinegar, hot sauce, bacon, beans, and the smoked ham hock. Crank up the heat, bring everything to a boil and back it down to a simmer. Let it simmer, uncovered, about 1 to 2 hours. If it gets too thick, add some water or broth. If it is too runny, continue simmering to thicken it or add more beans.
2) With a ladle or a large spoon, mash about 20% of the beans against the bottom or side of the pot. Remove the bay leaves and hock. Peel any meat you can get off the hock and toss it back in, discard the bone and bay leaf. Taste and adjust the salt, vinegar, and hot sauce to your preference. Turn to low. If you're going to brighten it with fresh chopped peppers, now's the time to add them.
3) Prepare the rice as described in my article The Science of Rice.
4) Spoon the rice in the center of a plate, top with the stew, and garnish.
Red Beans & Rice is a classic stew, so most of the flavors melt together and only the andouille stands out. To give it a bit of brightness, I like to chop in some sweet bell pepper, red or green, about 30 minutes before serving. I then like to sprinkle green onions, jalape–os, and tomatoes just before serving. They really give things a nice freshness and a bit of texture. If you want crunch, croutons or oyster crackers are nice. I like to sprinkle Frank's Hot Sauce on it at tableside.
If there is any left over, you can just dump the beans and rice together in the fridge. When it is time to reheat you can refry with a little oil in a pan, and add a little water. I like to brighten the flavors with fresh peppers, tomato, onion, and maybe a splash of lemon juice.