Serves: 4 to 6
Prep Time: 30 minutes + soaking time | Cook Time: 2 hours
Next Tuesday is Fat Tuesday—the best Tuesday of the year—and that means it’s time for red beans and rice. You see, it’s just not Mardi Gras without something from New Orleans. Granted, RB&R was traditionally a Monday dish in NOLA because that was laundry day and the beans could simmer for hours while the washerwomen (of course it was women!) did the laundry in a nearby cauldron. Then the dish morphed into a Meatless Monday favorite, even though the genuine article is made with ham or sausage. It’s a bit of a project (which is why I’m sending this a week ahead) so I usually wait until Mardi Gras to serve RB&R, but last year I ate it two other times — once in NOLA in January and again in August when I went to Pableaux Johnson’s Red Beans & Rice Road Show. This master bean-maker told us his grandmother served her RB&R with corn bread and whisky for dessert. That sounds good, but I’d recommend a serving of Louisiana shrimp to go with it. Pableaux also said that lots of people cook their beans in a pressure cooker, so keep that in mind InstaPotters. I make mine on the stovetop and yes, sometimes I substitute canned beans to cut back on the cooking time, but the texture isn’t as rich and thick.
I learned the real secret to RB&R when I was in the French Quarter to buy the best dried beans: the woman at the checkout counter told me to put in lots of butter. You can leave the ham or sausage out if you want to go vegetarian, but do not forgo the butter. Sorry vegans. And one more tip I learned from a Cajun with a PhD in immunology who sat next to me at the RB&R road show: the best rice is Uncle Ben’s. Laissez les bon temps rouler.
8 oz dried red beans or kidney beans (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 quarts homemade vegetable or chicken broth or 1 quart low-sodium broth + 1 quart water
1/4 lb chunk tasso ham or regular ham, or 1 andouille sausage
4 tablespoons butter
1 bay leaf
freshly ground black pepper
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 red or yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
1 cup raw white rice
chopped parsley or thyme sprig for garnish, optional
Put beans in a bowl, cover with cold water and let soak overnight. The next morning, drain the beans. Put them in a large pot with the broth, a very generous pinch of salt, ham (if using sausage, reserve it for later), butter, and bay leaf. Twist 20 cranks of the pepper grinder over. Bring to a gentle boil, uncovered.
Meanwhile, warm a slick of olive oil over medium-high heat in a frying pan and add the bell pepper, celery, and onion (known as the holy trinity in NOLA kitchens). Cook, stirring, until starting to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook for one minute. Scrape contents of pan into soup pot with beans. Then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until beans are very soft and liquid is thick, about 2 hours. Check pot now and then and add water if beans get too dry.
Twenty minutes before serving, cook rice according to package directions. If using sausage, slice it and brown it in a frying pan with a little olive oil. To serve, spoon rice into shallow bowls and top with a scoop of beans, bits of the ham from the pot (break it up with a spoon) or a few slices of sausage. Garnish with parsley or thyme sprigs if you want it to look prettier.
note: you can substitute 3 cans of drained, rinsed kidney beans for the dried beans. Add half the amount of liquid and the other ingredients as indicated above, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.