Beans and rice is a dish that is a staple of almost every culture. Red beans and rice, usually paired with a meat of some sort (like sausage or ham) is a Cajun/Creole specialty that, to me, is so fantastic in it’s simplicity that we have it at least once a month. Usually every couple of weeks. Red beans were originally introduced into southern Louisiana by the Haitians, making it historically a Creole dish, but was soon embraced by both Cajuns and Creoles alike as a weekly meal. It is traditionally made on Mondays, due to it being a “washday dish” where the women could put on their pot of beans and leave it pretty much unattended whilst they worked on the week’s laundry. Personally, I’ve never had a “washday” and my laundry habits are so wildly erratic and spontaneous that I would have to keep RB & R ingredients on hand at all times to follow this tradition. But when I accidentally make this dish on a Monday, I usually feel compelled to start a load of wash and feel pretty proud of myself for paying homage to my paternal ancestry.
This is such a simple dish, with few ingredients. But the payoff is incredible. I usually make a double batch because it freezes really well. The directions here are for a double.
So, let’s get started!
First, you need 2 one-pound bags (two pounds total, derp) of small red beans. Some people use regular red beans, or kidney beans, but believe me when I say you will have a much better outcome with the small ones. They cook more tender, and have a creamier texture, which is what we are after here. It will definitely behoove you to try to find the small red ones.
Dried, bagged beans require a soaking. But first, you must rinse and sort them. What exactly is rinsing and sorting? Well, it’s exactly like it sounds. You have to rinse them off, and sort through them to find any foreign debris. Sounds kinda gross, huh? The first time my mother told me about sorting dried beans I though by “foreign debris” she meant like bugs or fingers or something; but no, it’s pretty mundane. Most bags of dried beans have rocks. And you have to really look to make sure you get them (if there are any. Sometimes there aren’t.) You don’t want to serve this to someone and end up having to pay for bridgework.
Here is a bean, and two rocks:
Kinda hard to tell them apart, right? This is why careful sorting is important. So, getcher beans sorted and then rinse them well in a colander.
Now they must be soaked. You have the choice of either a) soaking them overnight in about 12 cups of water, or 2) doing the “quick soak” method, which requires less time but a little more work. I generally do the “quick soak” because it’s rare that I know the night before what I’m cooking the next day. But that’s just me.
For a quick soak, put yourrinsed and sorted beans into a large pot and cover with (about 12 cups) hot water. Put it on the stove on high, and bring it to a full, rolling boil.
Then remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let it sit for an hour to an hour and a half. Two hours if you accidentally fall asleep on the couch while they are sitting.
Now, whether you soaked them overnight or did the quick soak, you will need to drain them and rinse them again. They will now look like this:
They are now closer to cooked, but not cooked. If you don’t believe me, try biting on one of these at this point. Then we’re back to the bridgework discussion, which we don’t want.
Okay, on to the cooking portion. I didn’t take a picture of the whole cast of characters, but there are so few it really doesn’t matter. It’s pretty much your basic cajun additives – first, the trinity:
About three stalks of celery, one medium onion, one medium bell pepper. You want to chop these pretty fine — you want these three glorious ingredients to kind of melt away in your beans and become a single flavor.
You are also going to need bacon grease. Let’s talk about bacon grease for a moment, shall we? For starters, yes, at the outset, it sounds kinda yucky. Saving grease? We don’t save hamburger grease! Why? BECAUSE IT’S YUCKY. So why do we save bacon grease? BECAUSE IT IS SUBLIME. It adds such flavor to certain dishes. And it’s a flavor that can’t be duplicated. Pork fat is good, y’all. I KNOW it’s bad for you….but it’s so, so good. I always have a coffee cup full of bacon fat in my fridge. I use it in lots of my southern or cajun dishes. And sometimes, it looks so tempting, Jude will take a little swipe from it with his finger. Imagine that.
So, the moral of this story is, save your grease when you make bacon. You won’t regret it. If you categorically refuse to use bacon fat in this recipe, I will grudgingly say you can substitute a smoked ham hock and it will give some of the flavor we’re looking for here. If you are feeling really decadent, or wanting to impress someone, you can use both to add another layer of deliciousness. I didn’t have a ham hock so I just went with the grease. You can also throw in some tasso (cajun smoked ham) or maybe a couple of smoked pork chops as well. I didn’t have any of those things, but feel free to fancy it up however you like.
Now, we are going to saute the trinity. Melt a couple of tablespoons of the bacon fat in your pot – or, if you are being stubborn, use a couple tablespoons olive oil. You are gonna need SOME sort of fat here.
Once the veggies are soft but not browned, add your seasonings. I use the basics. You can put some minced garlic in here and saute it until the fragrance is released and you smell garlic. I just put in some Tony’s, some salt, and some black pepper.
I don’t usually add extra salt when I use Tony’s, because it is pretty salty already. But, these beans require a little more salt because, well, they are beans and quite frankly need a lot of salt to coax out their subtle flavor. I didn’t use more Tony’s because I wanted to minimize the heat due to little guy’s tender taste buds.
Now we need liquid. You could use water, but why? When stock or broth brings so much more to the party. I used chicken base and hot water, enough to make about 8-12 cups of liquid.
Put your beans back in the pot with the sauteed veg and seasonings and cover with the stock.
Bring it to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low and let them simmer with the lid tilted a bit, like this:
Little confession here: I didn’t have to include this pic. And I probably shouldn’t have, considering how dirty my stove looks. But, I couldn’t resist the chance to show off my new Le Creuset 12 quart stock pot that I recently received as an early birthday gift (thanks, Pat!). Isn’t it beautiful? *Sigh*
Okay. Back to cooking. Let the beans simmer for about an hour and a half, and then taste them for consistency and seasoning. They should be very soft by now. If you need to add more seasonings, this is the time to do it. If the beans aren’t very soft, let them continue simmering for another half hour and then check them again.
Let’s prepare the sausage now. You will need about 3 pounds of your favorite brand of smoked sausage, or andouille if you can find it. I personally like my local grocery store’s brand of smoked sausage – it is very meaty and spicier than most other brands.
Cut the sausage into about 1/4″ slices on the bias.
We’re gonna saute this in a skillet for a couple of minutes, just to get some nice color on there and to render off some of the fat. (See, I’m not TOTALLY ridiculous.) While the sausage is browning, ladle out about 2 cups of the beans (if they are fully soft now) with some of the juice.
Now take your potato masher and mash the hell out of em. If you don’t have a potato masher, use a fork, and put “potato masher” on your list for your next trip to Bed Bath and Beyond.
When you are done, your arm should be tired and they should look like this:
Then add it back to the pot. You can use your masher straight in the pot at this point to kind of break apart most of the remaining beans so they release the creamy richness of the beans’ interior. I wouldn’t recommend doing this with a fork, though. This is why you need a masher! If you prefer your beans a little more like soup, leave the rest of the beans intact.
The sausage should be just about right now.
Drain off the fat and add it to the pot as well.
Let it cook for another 15 minutes or so.
I should also point out that a lot of people put a bayleaf or two in their beans, and would pull them out right about now. I’m not a big fan of the bayleaf, so I left it out, but feel free to add it if you want.
Now serve this masterpiece of historical simplicity over white rice and sprinkle with a little chopped green onions. Oh, my. Oh, my my my. That’s goooooooood.
Make this on your next laundry day and give thanks to your higher power of choice that there is a magical place called South Louisiana. I know I do.