Thursday, February 12, 2009

Red Beans & Rice

Serves 8

The quintessential New Orleans dish, traditionally served on Mondays.(washing day) A lot of this can be trial-and-error, and it's going to take a little practice before you ll get it just right. This dish is special. It's delicious, it's cheap, it's simple, and it makes you feel good. It's the number one comfort food in the world.

You'll probably want to fiddle with it each time you make it, and arrive at the exact, instinctual combinations of seasonings that you like. Feel free to alter this recipe to your taste, but don't stray too far.

You can make this dish completely vegetarian, and it's still really good. Instructions below. There are probably as many versions as there are cooks. This one is from Chuck Taggart, a New Orleans native.(adapted slightly for use outside the U.S.)

  • 500g red kidney beans, dry
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 5 ribs celery, chopped
  • As much garlic as you like, minced (5 or 7 cloves, always use odd numbers of cloves)
  • 1 large smoked ham hock, 300g of Creole-style pickle meat (pickled pork), or 300g smoked ham, diced.
  • 500-750g mild or hot smoked sausage or andouille, bias sliced.
  • A large pinch of dried thyme leaves, crushed
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • As many dashes of Crystal hot sauce or Tabasco as you like
  • A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • Red pepper and black pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh Creole hot sausage or chaurice, links, grilled or fried, one link per person (optional) Any kind of good sausage will do.
Pickled onions (optional)

Soak the beans overnight, if possible. The next day, drain and put fresh water in the pot. (This helps reduce the, erm, flatulence factor.) Bring the beans to a rolling boil. Make sure they are always covered by water, or they will discolor and get hard. Boil for about 45 - 60 minutes, until they are tender but not falling apart. Drain.

While the beans are cooking, sauté the Trinity (onions, celery, bell pepper) until the onions turn translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally. After the beans are boiled and drained, add the sautéed vegetables to the beans, then add the ham hock (or ham or pickle meat), smoked sausage, seasonings, and just enough water to cover.Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer.

Cook for 2 hours at least, preferably 3, until the whole thing gets nice and creamy. Adjust seasonings as you go along. Stir well, stir well. (If the beans are old -- say, older than six months to a year -- they won't get creamy. Make sure the beans are reasonably fresh. If it's still not getting creamy, take 1 or 2 cups of beans out and mash them, then return them to the pot and stir.) If you can ... let the beans cool, stick them in the fridge, and reheat and serve the next day. They'll taste a lot better. If you do this, you'll need to add a little water to get them back to the right consistency.

Serve generous ladles over hot white long-grain rice, with good French bread and good beer. grilled or broiled fresh Creole hot sausage or chaurice on the side is also good. Try serving a few small pickled onions with the red beans -- Chop them up and mix them in with the beans. Also a good idea to sprinkle some spring onions on top.

Vegetarian Version

Follow the same instructions as for the regular version above, except:
Omit the ham hock (or ham or pickle meat), and the smoked sausage.
Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil along with the seasonings.
Add 1 teaspoon (or enough as you like, to taste) of liquid smoke seasoning. The vegetable oil helps replace the fat you get from the sausage, and the liquid smoke flavoring helps replace the smokiness you get from the smoked sausage and smoked ham hock. Be very careful with liquid smoke, though ... a little goes a long way and it's really easy to overdo it.

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