2.11.2009

Food Musings: Red Beans and Rice

Red beans and rice is one of those dishes I learned to cook while in New Orleans and it never fails to bring back memories of my time in the Crescent City. It's something I make quite often, maybe twice a month or so, but tend to make it on Mondays as is the tradition. Apparently, back in the day, women in the Big Easy served ham on Sunday and used the ham hock to make Monday's red beans which could simmer on the stove while they did their cleaning chores. One can find red beans and rice most days in touristy New Orleans restaurants, but good ones usually keep the tradition by serving it as a Monday lunch special.

I don't use a recipe for it, and whether it's because I don't have a certain ingredient, or I want to experiment a bit, my red beans come out different every time. First, I never use a ham hock. I've never liked ham all that much, and while I know I can buy just the ham bone, I never actually do that. Instead I start with a bit of oil, chopped onion and celery, although if I don't have fresh celery in the house, I've been known to use a few sprinkles of celery flake instead. While the onion/celery mix is softening, I add some spices - usually salt and black pepper, sometimes thyme, always a bay leaf or two. Then I decide if I feel like going vegetarian or not. If not, then it's time to add sausage, about a pound of it - andouille is my number one choice, but kielbasa, linguica, chorizo, and the like have worked well. If yes, then it's time to add the beans. I'm not organized enough to plan to make this dish ahead of time (which means soaking dried beans overnight and all that) so I rely on canned red beans, four 14.5-ouncers or 2 large cans, sometimes using a pretty mix of light or dark for aesthetic reasons only. I tend to use an immersion blender to puree one can's worth so the dish has a creamier texture. Once the beans are in, I add the heat - several dashes of Trappey's Louisiana Hot Sauce and plenty of Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning. On these two things I remain a purist. I give it all a taste, adjust my seasonings accordingly and let it simmer for as long as it takes. The rice part? Usually a nice basmati I make in my handy rice cooker, but sometimes even I resort to Uncle Ben's "boil-in-the-bag." It doesn't matter to me - one bite and I may as well be walking along the Mississippi.

I doubt that these musings will help anyone make a decent pot of red beans. And while I'm sure there are New Orleanians out there who would balk at my laissez-faire attitude toward one of their best-known dishes, I would argue that laissez-faire is what NOLA does best. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and a little bit of cooking time - that's the best recipe for any dish in my opinion.

1 comment:

duodishes said...

Great with chicken. Fried of course! Everything can't be healthy. :)