"Red beans and ricely yours."
Red beans and rice dates back to the early 19th century. A slave rebelllion broke out in Haiti and many rich, white sugar planters fled to Louisiana, a possession of France at the time. They brought red beans from the Caribbean with them. Red beans and rice was created in the kitchens of the French Quarter and is now a signature dish of Louisiana's Creole cuisine.
It starts with diced bell pepper, celery and onion ("the trinity") being sauteed in some fat in a large pot. The vegetables are small diced, not chopped, so they take a back seat in the finished dish. Red kidney beans, usually (but not always) soaked, water and a smoked ham hock, shank or ham bone, get added. The mixture is seasoned (but not overly spicy) with bay leaf, thyme and cayenne pepper or a Creole seasoning blend. Andouille sausage, tasso ham or pickled pork are common additions, especially if there is not a lot of meat on the ham bone. The mixture is simmered slowly over low heat for a few hours. The consistency can be brothy and souplike, but, more commonly, is stewlike and creamy. Some cooks remove a few cups of beans, mash them and stir them back in for added creaminess. Others melt in cold butter at the end for a silky mouthfeel. All red bean and rice recipes contain the same basic ingredients, but, every cook prepares it a bit differently!
The final component, Louisiana's signature long-grain white rice, ties the dish together, but, it is always cooked separately and often simmered in seasoned stock for an additional layer of flavor. When served buffet-style or at a party, the rice and beans are presented separately and are scooped and plated by each guest. When plated properly, the rice is traditionally mounded in the center with the beans spooned around the rice. Remember to always place a bottle of hot sauce on the table too!
Red beans and rice became known as "the washday dinner", because Monday was typically when women worked outdoors washing and drying their family's clothes for 4-6 hours. The meal was prepared with Sunday supper's leftover ham bone. It was convenient, because dinner almost cooked itself on the stovetop, or over an outdoor fire, while the women worked and commiserated about the week ahead and caught up on all the neighborhood gossip. Gotta love washday!
Red beans and rice is so emblematic of NOLA, there is even a Red Bean Parade during Mardi Gras. People cover themselves, from head to toe in red beans. Now that, I would like to see!
This meal is Americana. My preference is to keep the slow-cooker and the pressure cooker out of its preparation. Feel free to disagree -- now excuse me while I put a pot of beans on stove and do some laundry!
I love New Orleans and have eaten in many of their fine restaurants as well as their roadside diners and dives -- and I loved every one. I even had some outstanding Chinese food there (THAT is a great story for another time). Interestingly, I never ate red beans and rice in NOLA.
My recipe comes from my friend Toni (Antoinette) Coher, who hailed from Texas but had a Creole grandmother on her paternal family tree. When I moved into my first apartment here in Happy Valley, PA back in 1974 (age 19), Toni and her husband lived in the apartment upstairs. Toni introduced me to the joys of cooking with ham hocks over a bowl of her KILLER red beans and rice for dinner one evening.
The following Saturday, she spent the afternoon with me and showed me how to make it in my own kitchen. After all these years, I've never felt the urge to experiment with any another recipe:
4 tablespoons bacon fat or butter (Note: I use butter because the smoked ham shanks are going to add enough of smoky flavor to this dish.)
2 cups small-diced yellow or sweet onion (1/4" dice)
1 1/2-2 cups small-diced celery (1/4" dice)
1 cup small-diced green bell pepper (1/4" dice)
4 large, minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning (a blend of salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, white pepper, granulated garlic, onion powder and dried thyme)
2 meaty smoked ham shanks, about 2 1/2 pounds total (Note: Click on the Related Article Link below, ~ Hog Heaven: Smoked Ham Shanks & Ham Hocks ~, to learn all about these two flavorful cuts of pork.)
4 bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 quarts water
freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, to taste, only if necessary
your favorite cayenne pepper sauce, served at tableside
3 cups uncooked extra-long grain white rice, 6 cups cooked or steamed rice
Adjust heat to medium-high and saute, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft, about 6 minutes.
~ Step 3. Adjust heat to a steady simmer, partially cover and allow to cook for 2 hours. During this time, I give it a stir every 15 minutes or so, but I'm not sure it's necessary, it just makes me feel better to know the beans are not laying on the bottom.
~ Step 4. Continue to simmer, covered, for a 3rd hour, stirring occasionally. After three hours of cooking, the meat will be starting to pull away from the shanks the liquid will be reduced by about half.
Note: If meat is not falling off the bones, continue to cook until it is, 30-60 minutes.
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon
My favorite kind was the cormeal crusted deep-fried shrimp with remoulade sauce. You can find my my recipe in Categories 2, 11 & 14!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)