Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Red Beans and Ricely Yours

I am completely convinced that, in a past life, I lived in Southern Louisiana.  Actually, I lived in New Orleans.  The first time I visited that magnificent city, I had the most overwhelming sense of déjà vu I’ve ever experienced in my life (and I’ve had several, knock-me-on-my-butt déjà vu trips….).  I just *knew*, somehow, I’d been there before (and not just *been*, but *BEEN*), even though I clearly hadn’t.

Well, unless you count the trip my mother took to The Big Easy when she was pregnant with me….

Every street I walked down, every corner I turned, every building I saw, I somehow felt in my bones (and soul) that “I’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE”.  It was spooky, and odd, and bizarre, and yet, at the same time, comforting.

And then I started to taste the food.  And I was even more certain that this place, and this cuisine, was not foreign to me.  I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad meal in New Orleans.  Ever.  That includes the usually-nasty-complimentary-hotel-breakfast service and room service.  I could eat New Orleans’ food (both Cajun and Creole) happily every week for the rest of my life.

I’m not going to attempt to address the subtle (and not-so subtle) differences between “Cajun” food and “Creole” food.  I’m not an expert, but an avid fan.  I’d be in way over my head to try to educate anyone about them.  As I understand it, in its most simplistic terms…“Cajun” is more “country” and “Creole” is more “city”.  Creole food uses a lot of tomatoes, Cajun, not so much.  Cajun food is more slow-cooked (stewed, braised, etc.) while Creole is often sautéed or pan-fried.

Duddn’t matter much to me.  I love it all, no matter the label.  Muffalettas, gumbos, etouffees, jambalayas, po’ boys, sauce piquants, I can eat them any day, any time.  And I especially loves me my red beans and rice.  As did the legendary Louis Armstrong, whose signature line I stole for the title of this article.  Seriously, Pops signed all of his letters “Red Beans and Ricely Yours,”.  Gotta love it.

It’d been a while since I’d made red beans and rice from scratch.  It’s not complex, but it does take about half a day, since you’re cooking with dried beans.  I don’t know whether it was the start of the new season of “Treme” on HBO (if you’re not watching this show, shame !), or whether I just needed an infusion of The Trinity, but last week it was time to get my N’Awlins on.

Here’s whatcha need:

That’d be dried red beans (you could use dried kidney beans as well), a meaty ham bone (ham hocks, ham shanks or smoked turkey legs could substitute nicely, and have in my kitchen), some locally made “andouille” sausage, a green bell pepper, some celery, some onion, (there’s your Trinity), some garlic, some cayenne pepper, a couple of bay leaves and some glorious bacon fat.

What….?  You don’t save bacon fat when you cook bacon.   *GASP*….I don’t know you !  That stuff’s beige gold, baby !  A flavor bomb.  Used sparingly, of course, it’s no worse for you than any other fat, and probably better than most hydrogenated oils (no, we’re not gonna go there either).  Used sparingly is the key.

Sort your beans on a sheet pan, just to be sure there’s nothing nasty in there.  Honestly, it’s been like an eon since I’ve found a pebble or a stone in my beans, but it still could happen.  And I do usually find split or shriveled beans that I cull off.

Yes, the baking sheet looks skanky.  No, I don’t care.  It’s clean, it works fine.  Nothing short of a laser beam is going to get that polymerized grease off of it, so let's just skip on by.

Then rinse the beans in a sieve under running water.

We’re not going to be soaking the beans here.  I know this is heresy for a lot of people, but I’m on “Team Don’t Soak”.  Two really, really, REALLY good chefs, who I respect PROFOUNDLY (Rick Bayless and John Besh, whose recipe was the basis for this) don’t soak.  That’s pretty well good enough for me.

That and I’ve found I like the texture of non-soaked beans better.  My taste.  Your mileage may vary.  And your taste may be different.  For me, I don’t soak.

Oh, and let’s just get this out of the way up front…..I have a major, huge crush on John Besh.  He’s just pretty darn swoony.

Back to reality, or at least red beans and rice.

Chop up your Trinity (that’s seriously what they call it in Louisiana….The Trinity, similar to a mirepoix in French cooking).  While mirepoix is onion, celery and carrots, the Trinity is onion, celery and green peppers.  Usually there’s garlic involved in some manner as well.  In this case, the garlic and onion go in first, then the celery and the bell pepper.  That’s why I separated them.

Melt some of that luscious bacon fat (oh baby, what you do to my taste buds….)

in a large, deep saucepan or soup pot.  Add the onion and garlic and let them get nice and aromatic, but not brown or too soft.  Then add in the celery and bell pepper.

Once the onion gets nice and wilty and translucent, add in the ham bone (you could also use a ham hock or two) and the bay leaves.  Stir them around to get them acquainted with the bacon fat and veggie goodness, then add the beans and spices.

I tossed in some “Creole” seasoning along with the cayenne.  If you want to add the “Cajun/Creole” seasoning as I did, make sure it’s salt free, since salt WILL toughen the beans if added too early.  Besides, you’ve got plenty of salt in the ham, bacon fat and the sausage coming later.  And then add the rinsed beans.

Add enough water to cover the ingredients by about 2 inches.  This is where I mucked up the recipe, but I recovered later.  My pan was too shallow and too wide, and I needed way more water than I should have to cover the ham bone.  Not to worry, this is “recoverable-from” (OY, my 9th-grade English teacher is spinning in her grave over that sentence structure…sorry).

As with a lot of dishes that end up really yummy in the end, it looks like a toxic waste spill to start out.  Patience, Grasshopper.  It will be rewarded.

Bring the mix to a boil and cover the pot.  Reduce heat to low, and cook slowly, at a bare simmer, for about 2 hours.  Go in and stir the beans every now and then, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot so they’re not sticking.  Add more water if need be, to make sure the beans always have at least an inch of water covering them.  After the requisite 2 hours, I realized I’d had waaaaayyyyy toooooo much water to start with.  The beans were way too soupy for my taste.

Hmmmmm…..  No harm, no foul.  I just cranked the heat a bit, took the lid off, and let it cook down, stirring more often than I had initially.  It actually helped the beans break down a bit more, and made for a richer broth.

*Mental note*--- MOST (caveat….most, not all) kitchen muck-ups are “recoverable from” (there goes that English teacher again).  You just have to be logical about what the problem is, and where you want the end result to be.  And have faith (and the “courage of your convictions” she says invoking Julia yet again).

Cook until the beans are nice and soft and creamy.  They should be just about ready to fall apart when you stir them.

At that point, take your andouille, and slice or chop it.  I sliced it this time,

and later wished I’d cut it in smaller pieces.  The slices were just a bit….clunky.

Put the sausage in a sauté pan, and brown those babies up.  You probably won’t need much extra fat, as you can see the sausage is plenty fatty.  But if it looks like its a bit dry, feel free to add more bacon fat (YES) or oil.

By the way, in no way, shape, or form would I consider this real andouille.  That’s why I put the name in quotes when I noted it above.  It’s as close as I can find out here in LaLaLand, and it’s actually pretty decent.  Better than the alternatives.  If you can’t find real andouille, I feel your pain.  I’d suggest whatever smoked sausage you like that has some spice.  I’ve used “hot links”, other brands of “andouille”, “Louisiana Hots” and “Spicy Beef Links” to varying degrees of success.  Use what you can find, but go for the smoke and the heat.  You need both.

If you are lucky enough to have access to real andouille, you don’t need me to tell you how to make red beans and rice !

After sautéing, the sausage should be nice and brown and crispy.

Dump that (elegant term, isn’t it….?) into the pot with the beans.  Include the fat, it won’t hurt.  Let that simmer for a bit while you pull the ham bone/hocks and pick the meat off of it.

That’s what you’ll end up with.  Yes, The Grrrlz were extremely interested in the trash that evening.

Put the picked ham meat back into the pot and let simmer while you cook some rice and chop up some scallions.

You don’t need me to tell you how to cook rice.  Actually you don’t WANT me to tell you how to cook rice, because apparently, I can’t.  A rice cooker is high on my “List ‘o’ Things To Get”.

Season the beans with salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the chopped scallions.

Put some rice into the bottom of a soup bowl,

and ladle your red beans over the top.

Season to taste with the hot sauce of your preference.  Mine’s Crystal….Tabasco’s toooooo vinegar-y for me.

By the way, Red Beans and Rice is traditionally made in New Orleans and Southern Louisiana on Mondays, since, historically, that was the day laundry was done.  The beans could simmer along, unattended,  most of the day while the cook was busy with other chores.  Plus, there was likely to be meat leftover from the weekend's "big" dinners.  No matter when you make it, Red Beans and Rice is just tasty stuff.

Red Beans and Ricely Yours, here’s the quantities for the recipe !

Red Beans and Rice
Serves 6 (a note, since I made a half recipe, in the photos my amounts of ingredients will be smaller)
Based on a recipe from John Besh’s My New Orleans

2 onions, diced
1 green bell pepper, cored and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tblsp. rendered bacon fat, lard, or oil
1 pound dried red beans (or dried kidney beans)
2 smoked ham hocks (or meaty ham bone, or ham shanks or smoked turkey legs)
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. cayenne (or more to taste)
1/2 to 1 tsp. salt-free Cajun/Creole spice mix (optional)
8 ounces andouille or other hot, smoked sausage
3 scallions, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Tabasco or other hot sauce to taste
3C cooked white rice

Sort and rinse the beans.  Melt the fat, or heat the oil in a large, deep pan then add the onion and garlic and sweat until fragrant.  Add the bell pepper and celery, and sauté over medium heat until onion is translucent.

Add the beans, ham hocks/bone, cayenne, Cajun/Creole seasoning (if used) and bay leaves.  Mix everything around in the fat for a couple of minutes, then add water to cover by at least 2 inches.  Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil.

Cover the pot, reduce heat to low and simmer slowly for about 2 hours.  Stir the beans occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot.  Add water as needed to be sure the beans are covered by at least 1 inch.

Simmer until the beans are creamy soft, and starting to fall apart when stirred.  Slice or chop the andouille and sauté in a separate skillet until nicely browned.  Remove the ham bone/hocks from the beans, and let cool until you can handle it.  Add the sausage, and any fat in the skillet, to the beans.

Pick the meat from the ham bone/hocks, chop if needed, and return to the beans.  Heat meat through, and then stir in the chopped scallions, and season beans to taste with salt, pepper and hot sauce.

Scoop cooked white rice into soup bowl, and top with red bean mixture.  Pass additional hot sauce to add to taste.

1 comment:

  1. Looks really good. I had that same sense of deja vu when I had my first and only experience a month after 9/11. I will admit to having read Anne Rice's "The Witching Hour" several times - mostly for the descriptions of the homes and gardens. We stayed in the French Quarter and my son and I took the St. Charles Ave. streetcar at least once a day just to wander around the Garden District. I have to get back.