Tuesday, March 27, 2018
When I was a kid, we lived in East Texas--not too far from the Louisiana border, so there was always a hint of Cajun and Creole cuisine at hand. The pinnacle of this had to be the local 'fancy restaurant' in our world, a seafood place known as Johnny Cace's.
Johnny Cace's was a legendary local eatery that that had been around for decades even back then, and it was always a special night when we got all gussied up and made the drive to dine there.
My dad was a seafood fanatic, and JC's didn't disappoint--he would start with a platter of raw oysters, then settle in for some sort of whole fish offering, washed down with plenty of beer. But of course, it was the other dishes that really excited us, the 'New Orleans cuisine.' They served things like gumbo, shrimp creole, crawfish etouffee and so on.
This place alone sort of imbued in me a fascination for New Orleans that continued into adulthood, when I actually began to visit the Big Easy. There I discovered even more local cuisine that Johnny Cace's didn't serve. Things like beignets and cafe au lait, hurricane cocktails and of course, that most ubiquitous of NOLA side dishes, Red Beans and Rice.
RB&R became a staple for me every time I visited, and when I'd come home I'd always be disappointed that I'd have to wait until my next trip to get red beans this good. (There were just none available in my area) Eventually, I decided I had to do something about it. I would have to make my own.
I sought out Red Beans and Rice recipes far and wide, and for a time I didn't find one that truly matched the excellence of the New Orleans version. So I began to mix and match ingredients and techniques from the various recipes, and eventually I came up with what I considered to be a fair example of what I got in NOLA.
A couple of codicils before we begin--make sure you get actual small red beans, rather than pinto or kidney beans--this will make a difference in flavor, texture and color.
Also, the secret to making your red beans sing is using a smoked ham hock (or similar--more on that below). This was the key ingredient that I was missing in my first attempts at the dish, and once I started using it, the beans really came together.
32 Oz Small Red Beans, Dried
2 Tablespoons Cooking Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion
4 Stalks Celery
8 Cloves of Garlic
3/4 Cup White Wine
1 Tablespoon Dried Thyme
2 Teaspoons Hot Sauce
1 Teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 Ham Hock (or similar, see below)
1 Quart Chicken Stock
1 Pound Smoked Sausage
2 Bay Leaves
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
3 Cup White Rice
Soak beans in water for four hours or so.
Drain the beans and discard the water. Heat oil in large pot
Dice the Onion and Celery.
Saute Onion and Celery until soft.
Mince Garlic and add it to the pot.
Add wine and stir to scrape up browned bits
Add Thyme, Hot Sauce and Worcestershire Sauce
Next, let's talk about the proteins. Traditionally, New Orleans style red beans and rice are made with andouille sausage, a spicy pork sausage that originated in France and was brought to Louisiana by French immigrants. If you can track some of this down, by all means use it, but use any spicy, smoked sausage other than Italian in a pinch. Here I'm using a smoked beef and pork sausage with a garlic addition.
Note that other piece of meat above the sausage. That is a smoked ham shank, which I found at my local grocery store.
Traditionally, a smoked ham hock is used, but I've had some bad luck with hocks I've gotten at the grocery store--they are sometimes rancid and will ruin whatever dish they are used in. I decided to try my luck with this shank, which is of course very similar to a hock, and I was feeling confident since it was vacuum-sealed and from a reputable company.
It turned to to work great, so I've bought a few more and frozen them for future use. If you can get one of these, give it a shot, otherwise, you'll have to try your luck with a hock. The beans are just not the same without this pork product.
Slice the Sausage into thin half-disks.
and place it in pot.
Place the Ham Hock or Shank in the pot, nestled over the sausage.
Add the Chicken Stock and top up with water until the beans are just covered. Add the Tomato Paste, Paprika and Bay Leaves.
Bring to soft boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook three hours, stirring beans every thirty minutes. Keep an eye on the liquid level, it should be fine but if too much boils away, add a little water. Towards the end of the three hours, a sort of thick gravy will have formed. This is what you want, so don't add any liquid at this point.
After the three hours, discard the bay leaves. Things should look like this:
Discard the ham hock or shank. Some people pull the meat and stir it into the beans. I find this meat a bit tough, and since there's all that sausage in there, I don't worry about it. Taste beans and adjust with salt and pepper to your liking if necessary. (I don't add any salt prior to this point as the sausage and hock/shank have a good bit of salt in them) Beans are ready to serve now.
Cook rice according to your chosen method. I use a plain basmati rice that I cook in a rice cooker. Not only does this make perfect rice every time, but it will keep the rice warm indefinitely so it can be served later. I don't do anything fancy to the rice, it is there mainly for texture, the beans are the star of this show.
Serve the beans over the rice with additional hot sauce on the side. Some people mix them together before they serve them, but I like to just heap the beans on top and let my guests mix them as they will. The beans are also great on their own, as a side.
Until next time,