Red beans and rice
This one’s pretty simple, actually; much simpler than most restaurants would like you to think that it is. The key element for this recipe is, yes, time. Plenty of it. From my point of view, there’s simply no way around it. This recipe won’t thicken properly if the beans haven’t had time to cook down and release starch molecules in the water, and cooking down beans just takes time.
This is a slightly tweaked version of Paul Prudhomme’s red beans and rice recipe, which I found in a 1983 year-end compilation issue of Southern Living. My mother was going to throw it out, because she never used it. I tried out this recipe and, once I made a change or two, I just fell in love with it.
Recipe first. Comments second.Red Beans And Rice, official recipe
1 lb. dried red kidney beans
4 quarts water
¾ cup chopped onion
¾ cup chopped celery
¾ cup chopped green pepper
2 tsp. minced garlic
½ cup butter
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. Hungarian paprika (slightly less if you’re using half-sharp)
½ tsp. dried whole oregano
1 lb. andouille sausage or smoked Polish sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
rice (see commentary below)
Here’s how they tell you to do it:
Sort and wash the beans, and place into a 6-quart Dutch oven. Cover with water 2 inches above the beans, and let them soak overnight. Drain the beans, add four quarts of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 1½ hours, stirring the beans occasionally.
Sauté onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic in butter in a large skillet until tender. Stir the sautéed vegetables and next 6 ingredients into the beans. Cook, uncovered, for an hour, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary.
Bake the sausage for 20 minutes at 350°. Drain. Stir the sausage into the bean mixture and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaves and stir in the chopped parsley. Serve over rice. Feeds six geeks.
Here’s what I think:
This can be streamlined. This dish is one that’s intended to cook for a long period of time, so I’ll give you a tip: this dish is extraordinarily forgiving. I don’t care what other people say. Me, I’m more likely than not to cheat and fudge and do things my own way, and I’ve never had this recipe turn out badly.
Since I’m lazy, I almost always forget to start soaking the beans the night before. No problem there—just cover the beans in a couple of inches of water and boil for about an hour or so, until they’re no longer tough. Want some extra flavor? When you start boiling the water, throw in a ham hock. They’re dirt cheap, and the flavor boost you get is just fabulous.
Once that’s done, I generally start following the recipe. I add more water to the pot, to bring it up to about the level that the recipe is expecting. The seasonings are good, but they’re not quite punchy enough for my taste. I generally add a good bit of black pepper, and usually sneak in some extra garlic if nobody’s looking.
I sometimes get really tired of standing around in the kitchen, waiting on this to cook, so sometimes I’ll just throw the copped onions/celery/peppers (with about half the prescribed amount of butter) into the pot, and don’t even bother worrying about sautéeing them.
Now, as for those cooking times? They’re just a guideline. You’re looking for the green bits to soften up and meld with (the beginnings of) the thickening bean-water-spice mixture. Once that happens, the next thing you’re going to need to do is to reduce this mixture down a bit. You don’t want wall spackle; you want a nice, thick sauce in which some of the beans are still whole and some have completely broken down.
If the sauce gets too thick, just add some water and reduce it back down to the consistency you want. You’re going to get the flavor, no matter what; it’s impossible to avoid in this recipe. When you think that the bean mixture is getting close to the finished texture you want, pop the sausage in the oven.
Me, I cut the sausage into smaller chunks than what the recipe calls for; I hate enormous chunks of sausage. Just do yourself a favor and don’t buy cheap or bland sausage (the two are usually one and the same). You want something hearty, with a bit of a spice kick behind it. Stay away from anything turkey— you want sausage made out of something that had four legs, not two.
As for the rice—don’t serve just plain rice, you silly thing. You’re going to have some greenery left over, so why not mince up a bit of your onion, celery, pepper, and garlic, and throw some in with the rice? Your rice will be better for it.
Have I scared you off yet? Hopefully not. Just remember this: culinary experts rave about “peasant food” for the same reason you tear into your grandmother’s cooking. “Peasant cooking” is about taking the inexpensive, flavorful ingredients that are locally available; assembling them with a combination of love, care, and time; then feeding everyone in a three-mile radius. Cajun cooking is one of the best examples of this that I’ve ever seen.
Not to mention that it’s really good for when you want to have a bunch of geeks over for dinner.