Red Beans Et Du Rizi
Image Courtesy: Raised on a Roux_Red Beans and Rice Recipe
The Iconic Louisiana Dish
I suppose the dish known solely as Red Beans and Rice identifies with New Orleans like no other local culinary repast. I never thought much about the history behind this indigenous fare until I wanted to write this story.
It turns out that another icon of this home of Jazz identified Red Beans and Rice as his favorite dish. With musical immortality under his belt, Louis Armstrong declared this simple dish as his favorite meal. A copy of the recipe used by his wife to prepare it for him is displayed at the Louis Armstrong House Museum.
Image Courtesy: Louis Armstrong House Museum
History dictates that Mondays were declared the special day when it was prepared. Also being “wash day”, it was easy for housewives to set a pot of beans simmering on the stove all day while doing other chores.
What Does It All Mean
Apparently the fact that the dish was a cultural phenomenon to the area came as a shock to the famous local chef Paul Prudhomme. He had to come to grips with the concept that it was as much a part of the New Orleans scene as Mardi Gras, Po’boy Sandwiches, and the Fleur-De-Lis.
Today, local entrepreneurs have fashioned a city-wide contest called the Bean Madness Contest. It allows individuals and restaurants to vie for the title of the best tasting recipe for red beans and rice.
That seems like a good idea for a local fest, but it does not seem to translate very well when you are looking for a place to eat a well made and tasty version of the recipe. With all the restaurants in New Orleans that I was served the dish at, I could not find one that produced a version that I liked (or considered to be thoughtfully prepared). After all, the catered-to tourists that frequent the city don’t have the same discerning palate as the locals.
The Red Beans and Rice dishes served were dry with a gummy taste and little or no presence of the ingredients that make them live up to the reputation that has made the recipe famous. Adding hot and dry Andouille Sausage (a favorite additive) to the meal didn’t improve matters any for me. A few extra beers and some Cayenne Pepper was needed to help.
So What Do You Do?
You can either find the winner of the Bean Madness Contest and try their dish, or make your own. I guess the best place to start your compilation of fixings is to find a good basic recipe.
My wife Gene (short for Geneva) found one in River Road Recipes, a popular cookbook for the New Orleans area. Then, over the years, she tweaked the ingredients which would eventually cause a fantastic end result to be created.
I asked her to allow me to print her recipe for this article but she declined. She did not want to give away her secrets. So much for that idea. But since I got you this far, I will shed a few pointers on the dish.
Her (Our) Red Beans And Rice Highlights
- Use Red Beans and not Kidney Beans
- Definitely soak beans overnight with enough water to expand
- Use Ham Hocks and not substitutes
- Replace Andouille Sausage with Kielbasa (aka. Polish Sausage)
- Kick up the spiciness with “secret” peppers and seasonings
- Use white rice and not fancy white-rice substitutes
- Real French Bread as a side is best, but Cuban Bread is also okay
- A garlic spread is best for the bread when toasted
- Flavor your plate with lots of Cayenne Pepper
- Don’t worry about the calories which are gonna be high, but so what
The fat in the Ham Hocks adds a lot of flavor to the beans. A little fresh garlic also adds flavor. It’s also best not to mash any beans to create the Puree’ because it will develop a sort of “Roux” on its own after a day or so. You don’t want a to wind up with a gummy or pasty recipe.
If you play around with spices, do so in a separate small amounts. This way you won’t ruin the whole batch. If you come up with your own perfect concoction, it will become your secret blend.
You can also rejuvenate the leftovers by soaking more beans and cooking them down before adding to the mix. This freshens up the dish and eliminates the pasty leftover taste. Add enough water and stir in another batch of Kielbasa sausage cut into slices. Yum mm!
There are multitudes of Red Beans and Rice recipes, and some claim to be authentic. If historical records cannot identify an actual creation event, then how can there be an authentic recipe?
It is my personal theory that lifelong residents of the Crescent City area, who are now senior citizens, grew up with spicy foods on the table. Restaurants that cater to “older folks” in other parts of the country usually serve “bland” tasting food to accommodate their patrons. I know, because I have tasted it.
Cajun and Creole recipes do not cater to sensitive palates and that is the secret. Hot and tasty spices are a part of the genre. Red Beans and Rice must have that kick to bring out the flavor.
It is a comfort food and very delicious if prepared right. Some of the better versions have secret spice blends that make them stand out. I think our version is one of those. It’s kind of like my momma made, but tweaked up some notches here and there by my wife to make it even better.
I guess each chef (and chef-wanna-be , like myself) would have to start with a good reliable cookbook list of ingredients and methods of preparation. Then start including this and that to make it perfect. River Road Recipes was a starting point for us. What could be yours?