I grew up with a dad who was born in 1907 out on a Mount Herman farm an hour and a half north of New Orleans. You didn’t have to live right in the city proper to be steeped in its deep, full, and varied food culture. His family was champion at cooking and eating together. And whatever was available just might be on that stove. Insert turn of the century poor farm folk imagination here.
“Real food,” as dad–who crossed the river in 1994– called it, was a constant in our lives in the southern Chicago suburbs, maybe because tasty as farm food was, it was occasionally in short supply during his childhood. Sandwiches and pizza were decidedly NOT real food, but rather snacks, according to Dad. For 40 years after leaving the deep south in search of ready cash and a wife, he each morning made himself a hot lunch “real” meal to take to work as an Illinois Central Railroad welder. While I was at home, I got the same treatment. He heated his up with a torch on the welding bench; mine went into a thermos for safe-keeping until the lunch bell rang. I’m guessing the sometime hunger he experienced as a kid created the extravagant, sharing (“Eat, eat!”), and occasionally mean adult cook he became. On days of lean pickings, he and his myriad siblings often lived on “blue john” and cornbread– blue john being the very skimmest of milk as the cream was sold for butter. My father, whose name was Milton John, as an adult simmered up immense potfuls of-mostly- goodness no matter how many were at the table. Dad (or Mom) also made sure there was pan of fresh cornbread in the cast iron skillet to the side of the stove–used for meals, naturally, but often crumbled into a tall glass of buttermilk or sweet milk (today’s whole milk) and eaten with an iced tea spoon in the warm evenings for supper a la back on the farm. (Here is my grandparents’ wedding license just for fun. They were married in 1896.) My dad, by the way, was the grandchild of a Scottish immigrant–one of three brother who landed in South Carolina ( perhaps originally from the Isle of Skye where McClendons still reside) but also happily claimed a Choctaw Indian grandmother.
To be honest, I can’t quite remember pots of New Orleans Red Beans and Rice at our house as a child (but they could have been there-right?), though late in my parents’ lives, a box or two of Zatarain’s was often in the cupboard for a nearly instant dinner or supper. But in honor of my dad’s NOLA connection, I make a pot or so every year at Mardi Gras time (or if someone requests it), though I can never remember how I made it the last time. Blogging friend Kalyn Denny’s post on Slow Cooker Louisiana-Style Red Beans and Rice pushed me to not only cook, but to document the process this year at Mardi Gras time. Et voila! My gain is hopefully now yours.
ABOUT RED BEANS AND RICE
* The traditional Creole version of Red Beans and Rice, cooked on Mondays, includes Andouille sausage (or Chaurice or Chorizo) and the holy trinity of onions, celery, and green pepper–close to the French mirepoix (onions, celery, and carrots), the basis for many stocks and soups. It’s sadly true: I sub Italian sausage for the Andouille because I can get good quality Italian locally from Sara’s Sausage, but if I go with Andouille, it’s often way too spicy hot for me, as is oh-my-god-fire-alarm local chorizo. Occasionally good quality smoked kielbasa is in the house and I throw that in and am able to control the heat in the dish with crushed red pepper, black pepper, and/or hot sauce. Dave or I sometimes make sausage; maybe it’s time to try some homemade Andouille? By the way, spicy homemade sausage patties can be served on the the side of red beans and rice, too. No sausage for you? Go old school NOLA and throw in only a ham bone or ham hocks.
*About those green bell peppers...While tasty for us on a salad or for stuffed peppers, they aren’t as happy here (read burpy) as are the other beautifully colored peppers such as yellow, orange, or red despite being oh-so-traditional in New Orleans cooking. Do as you please and add the ingredients that make the most sense to your mouth, your larder, and to your pot. Whatever you do, please place the hot sauce bottle (I like Tabasco; others down south like Crystal) and the black pepper grinder on the table so friends and family can season their bowl to their own tastes. If you’re a purist, I sincerely apologize in advance (mea culpa); necessity is definitely the mother and father of invention while cooking. To find out why this hearty fare was always cooked on Mondays, read here.)
*No meat at all? It’s a full and satisfying meal full of vegetables. Try this.
*While many red beans and rice recipes call for red kidney beans –and they do work very well– the right or best bean for the job is the dry small red bean.
Small Red Beans are small, plump, oval-shaped red beans that resemble kidney beans, but are smaller and more rounded. They have a mild flavor and creamy texture that performs well on its own or as a component among other ingredients.
For a really simple version of this recipe using canned beans and perhaps even instant or microwave rice, click here. Next time, though, find an open afternoon for a pot of Red Beans aroma goodness to waft happily through your house and try this when you’re about to hit Lent. (And, if you’re interested in Lent, you might want to visit my Lenten blog.)
RED BEANS AND RICE–MORE TIME STYLE
Brown the sausage–whatever you use– while the beans are cooking or cook it ahead if you like, and add it for the last 20-30 minutes. Red beans and rice are Monday’s supper in New Orleans, but you can save this for “Fat Tuesday,” or any day anywhere at all. It was snowy here the day I made it.
- 1 pound dry small red beans, picked over and rinsed well
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- crushed red pepper
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 large red, yellow, or orange bell pepper
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon each dry thyme and oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup white wine
- Ham hock
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- Hot Sauce–a few drops or to taste
- Worcestershire sauce–2-3 good shakes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound link mild Italian sausage or Kielbasa (or Andouille, etc), sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
- 3 cups cooked white rice–a bit dry, not sticky, please
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Small handful chopped fresh parsley
- 8 scallions, sliced thinly
- 5 small red radishes, trimmed, and sliced very thinly–optional for garnish
1. Add beans to an 8-quart soup pot or Dutch oven; add 2-3 quarts water. Cover, place over high heat, and bring to a boil for two minutes. Let sit covered for one hour; drain. Set aside. (Alternately, soak picked over, rinsed beans all night in 2-3 quarts of water; drain and use as follows.)
2. Dry pot with towel; add 2 tablespoons canola oil and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Heat over medium-high flame for 10 seconds to season the oil with the pepper and then add celery, onion, and peppers. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, along with the thyme and oregano. Sauté, stirring, 6-7 minutes or until nearly softened, adding garlic for the last minute or two. Pour in white wine and let cook down 2 minutes.
3. Return reserved beans to the pot. Place ham hock at center and pour in broth and water; shake in a few drops of hot sauce and a couple of good shakes of Worcestershire sauce–or to taste. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2 – 2 hours until beans are nearly tender. Add more water if beans are too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove ham hock, let cool a few minutes, trim meat off and chop ham, adding it back into the bean pot.
4. BROWN SAUSAGE: While beans cook, heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet and brown the sausage pieces on both sides. Let drain on a paper-towel lined plate. Set aside if beans are nearly done or refrigerate, if needed, until beans are tender.
5. Add sausage to the pot of beans and cook another 20-30 minutes to marry flavors until beans are very tender. Taste and adjust seasonings one last time, remembering that the flavor will dumb down when combined with the rice.
6. Toss rice with butter and minced parsley, a tablespoon or so of sliced scallions, and season with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Add 1/2 cup rice mixture to each bowl and cover it or surround it with a generous large ladle of red beans and sausage. Garnish with a few scallions and slices of radish, if using. Serve hot. Pass hot sauce and pepper grinder at table.
Eaters’ Note: Whoever gets the bay leaf does the dishes.
Sing a new song; cook your own sausage,