Monday, January 28, 2008

Red Beans and Ricely Yours

A hearty pot of red beans bubbling away on my stove.

Today we're going to talk about making that Monday-night-in-New Orleans standard: red beans and rice. Why do Monday and red beans go hand in hand? Well, it's leftover from a time when families had ham for dinner on Sunday night and focused on doing their wash on Monday. A pot of beans -- all full of spice and leftover pork from the night before -- could sit on the stove all day and simmer while someone was out washing the clothes.

It's an inexpensive dish to make, but when it's done well it is worth its weight in gold. Little wonder then that jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong signed all his letters and autographs with the phrase "Red Beans and Ricely Yours."

So let's get started, because the sooner you get this on the stove, the better off you'll be.

Here's your shopping list:
1 package of kidney beans
1 package of smoked ham, diced
1 package of andouille sausage if you can find it; otherwise use a well-seasoned or smoked pork sausage. Whatever type sausage you use, just be sure to cut it into bite-sized pieces.
1 large onion, diced
1 large bell pepper, diced
2-3 celery stalks, diced
diced garlic (I firmly believe that one uses his or her judgement on this; me, I'm heavy-handed with it)
2 bay leaves
salt, cayenne, black pepper and white pepper to taste and a pinch or two of paprika (Note: You can take the easy route and opt for prepackaged Cajun seasoning instead. Again, the amount you use depends on your spice preference. I go for middle-of-the-road heat, assuming that people who require more will head for the Tabasco.)
2-3 teaspoons of oregano (for smokiness)
a pinch of thyme
about a tablespoon of parsley (for freshness)
steamed long grain rice

Here's what you do with all this:
Soak the beans in a pot of water overnight. The next day, rinse the beans in a colander, put them back in the pot and cover them with about two parts water to the amount of beans you have. Toss the diced onion, diced bell pepper, diced celery, garlic, bay leaves, spices, herbs, ham and andouille into the pot and jack the heat up to high, bringing everything to a boil. Stir the pot of red beans, then turn the heat down so that the pot of beans simmers for 4-5 hours. Always, always, always be sure to stir your beans (not to mention, adjust your cooktop heat and spices if it's necessary) about every half-hour. If you don't, they will stick and it will suck to clean up that mess.

You know the beans are ready when the sauce is like a thick, rich gravy. Serve the beans over steamed long grain rice and wash it all down with an ice cold beer. I'd drink Abita Golden if I could find it up here, but because I can't, a Sweetwater 420 works just fine too.

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