Red beans and rice are a signature of N’awlins Cajun cuisine and now you can make it as delicious as the classic.
In New Orleans, 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. This traditional Creole stew can be prepped quickly and, when made with dried beans, simmers away lazily for several hours. It has been thus forever. Even the estimable Louis Armstrong signed his autograph “Red beans and ricely yours”.
Among the classic 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.
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 N’awlins. 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.”
- 2 15-ounce cans of red beans, drained and rinsed (kidney)
- 4 strips bacon
- 1 cup chopped cured ham
- 1/2 pound andouille sausage
- 1 smoked ham hock
- 2 medium onions
- 1 green bell pepper
- 4 celery stalks
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon Morton coarse kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 Roma tomatoes
- 2 cups low salt chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or inexpensive balsamic vinegar)
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- 1 1/2 cups uncooked white rice
Optional Non-traditional Garnishes
- 2 green onions
- 2 jalapeños
- 2 Roma tomatoes
- Prep. Prepare all of the red beans and rice ingredients, starting by cutting the andouille sausage into 1/2-inch rounds. Chop the onions and celery. Press the garlic. Chop the Roma tomatoes.
- Prep the optional garnishes by first chopping the green onion. Remove the stem and seeds from the jalapeños and finely chop. Chop the Roma tomatoes into 1/2-inch chunks. Refrigerate garnishes until ready to serve.
- Cook. 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, 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.
- With a ladle or a large spoon, mash about 20 percent 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.
- Prepare the rice as described in my article The Science of Rice.
- Serve. Spoon the rice in the center of a plate, top with the stew, and garnish.
- 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.