The dish, Red Beans and Rice, is a classic New Orleans culinary creation. Much like Gumbo, everyone from that region has their own recipe. It was the favorite dish of the late, great Louis Armstrong who was known for deriving great pleasure from simple things; food, women and music. It is said that he chose his fourth wife, Lucille, after she prepared, at his request, her version of this staple. Apparently, the amount he ate was legendary and he returned later to finish the leftovers. Married for 30 years, they developed their signature recipe together. Known for his use of dietary aids, he suggests at the end of the recipe to wait 20 minutes after eating and then dose yourself with Bisma Rex (antacid) and Swiss Kriss (herbal laxative). I personally would not recommend using either but rather control yourself to avoid being a victim of over consumption. Louis was known to love this dish so much he took to signing his correspondence, “Red Beans and Ricely Yours, Louis.”
Another person from NOLA, I admire greatly, is Chef John Besh. He has this to say about this dish,
“Time is the key to making successful red beans: they need to cook slowly and well. Using flavorful fat is another secret. Just as my grandmother did, I keep fat from every batch of bacon I make and I save the fat that solidifies on the surface of chilled chicken soup and roast chicken drippings too. Just a little bit adds big flavor.”
Beans are the star of this creation so it important to treat them respectfully. Because we are using dried beans the question is always “to soak or not to soak”? Apparently from the amount of available internet conversation it has generated, it is quite controversial. The above link will take you to an article worth reading on the subject. In a nutshell, it seems that soaking overnight in cold water shortens the cooking time but robs the legumes of some flavor and creaminess. That said, I have drifted to the “no soak” approach. Whether using the slow cooker, oven or stove top they require long slow cooking and lots of love. This is a great dish for a snow day or any day when you have time and abundant love. Your diners will return the love, I guarantee.
Now that we have covered some history and cooking tips, I will proceed to share my version of this preparation born of humble beginnings. The process I followed for developing this recipe went something like this. I resolved to eat more mindful in 2016 hence I had organic red rice in my pantry. In addition I had just purchased a pound of heirloom white beans. They were sitting side by side on the shelf and my mind went to “white beans and red rice” a twist on the classic discussed above. Purist might consider this a sacrilege but I figure if everyone makes it differently, why not put my spin on it and give it a flip. Another change I made was potentially more grievous. I switched the traditional green bell pepper for red, yellow and orange mini bells. Many Cajun/Creole dishes start with a flavor base of onion, celery and green pepper called “The Holy Trinity” and it is held sacred. Messing with the “trinity” may be equivalent to a mortal sin. If so, I beg forgiveness but cannot promise to never do it again.
Here is how it went down.
WHITE BEANS & RED RICELY YOURS Serves 6-8
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
2 medium yellow onions, diced
1 large stock of celery, diced
1 bell pepper, diced (I used 6 mini red/yellow and orange)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
½ t cayenne pepper, or to taste
3 bay leaves
1 lb. dried white beans, rinsed
2 smoked ham hocks or meaty ham bones
5c water or enough to rise 2 inches above beans
3 green onions, sliced thin
Hot sauce, if desired
3c cooked red rice (about 1c raw)
2 (6-inch) links andouille sausage, sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- In a large oven proof heavy bottomed pot, sweat the onion, celery and pepper in a couple of tablespoons of rendered bacon fat, lard or cooking oil over medium-high heat until onions are translucent. Add the garlic, cayenne and the bay leaves and cook for another minute or so.
- Add the dried beans, ham hocks or bones and water. Bring to a boil.
- Remove from heat, cover and place in the center rack of the preheated oven.
- Check after 1hr 15min, stir and check the beans for doneness. If necessary, cover and continue cooking until beans are tender. This can take up 3 ½ -4hrs. depending on whether the beans are pre-soaked and also their freshness. Beans that are older take longer to cook. Check often and add more water if needed.
- While the beans are cooking, sauté the sausage slices in a pan, large enough and with a tight fitting lid, to cook the rice. Rinse the red rice. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Place the rice into the oil rendered by the sausage and toast the rice over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Be sure to stir frequently so it doesn’t burn.
- Add a pinch of sea salt and 2 ½ c water or stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- When beans are tender, remove from the oven and remove the ham hocks, set aside. When cool, remove any meat from the bones. Add the ham and andouille and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper, if necessary. To serve, put beans in a wide bowl or plate and serve the rice as a scoop on top or side by side. Garnish with the sliced scallions. Pass the hot sauce if desired.
I chose to cook this in the oven in a large enamel cast iron pot with a tight fitting lid. This method provides very even heat. You do have to check it from time to time to make sure there is enough liquid. Add more water if necessary, especially toward the end. A slow cooker or stove top would also work. The real test to doneness is simply to taste and determine when the beans are tender. Chef Anne Burrell says it is important to taste 5 different beans from different places in the pot. Because they may cook unevenly this will tell you when it is completely done. This works very well. Thanks, Anne for the tip.
With the storms threatening this weekend I suggest you all stay home and make this pot of culinary love. Keep in mind it makes a fairly large quantity so if your diner numbers are small you might want to cut it in half. I hope all will stay safe and keep spreading the love, one dish at a time. Dishes like this is what memories are made of. Until next time, remembering the words of Louis Armstrong ,
“What A Wonderful World.”
Warm thoughts, Jeanne