RED BEANS ET RIZ AVEC SAUCISSE POLONAISE (Red Beans and Rice with Polish sausage)
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 planned to write this story.
It turns out that another icon of this Birthplace of Jazz music claimed Red Beans and Rice as his favorite dish. With musical immortality tucked under his belt, Louis Armstrong declared this simple dish as his most popular dinner meal. A copy of the recipe his wife used to prepare it for him is displayed on a plaque at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in New Orleans.
In this historically poignant area of southern realm, history dictates that Mondays were declared the special day when it was prepared by the local multitudes who favored its delectable taste. Also known as “Wash Day”, it was easy for housewives to set a pot of beans simmering on the stove for hours while doing other chores like a weeks worth of laundry.
What Does It All Mean
Apparently the fact that the dish was a such a cultural phenomenon in the area came as a shock to Paul Prudhomme, a famous local chef. He eventually came to grips with the concept that it was as much a part of the New Orleans culture as Mardi Gras, Po’boy Sandwiches, and the Fleur-De-Lis symbol you see everywhere.
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 provocateur of the best tasting recipe for red beans and rice.
That seems like a good idea for a local festive occasion, but I have found that properly prepared examples are scarce when you are looking for a place to eat a well made and tasty version of the recipe. After making a tour of many restaurants in New Orleans that served the dish, I could not find any that produced an acceptable one that I liked. After all, the catered-to tourists that frequent the city don’t have the same discerning palate as the locals do, or even me for that matter.
The Red Beans and Rice dishes that were served had a dry, 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 for most chefs) to the meal didn’t improve matters much. A few extra beers and a healthy dose of Cayenne Pepper was needed for an antidote.
So What Do You Do?
You can either find the winner of the Bean Madness Contest via the link provided and sample their dish for a cure, or simply 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, an extremely popular cookbook for the New Orleans area. Then, along with a written recipe she found tucked away in one of my mom’s old cookbooks, she tweaked the ingredients over time and eventually created a fantastic end result that is stamped with her signature to this very day.
Daring myself to tread on hallowed ground, I asked her to allow me the privilege of printing her recipe for this article, but she steadfastly declined. Not wanting to give away her secrets, she stood fast in her determination.
So, I backed down and abandoned that idea. However, my diabolically inspired clandestine efforts used while helping her cook the recipe by assembling and prepping the ingredients for her have yielded significant results. So, since I have gotten this far with my endeavor, I will shed the best light on the proper method required to produce such a flavorful dish.
My Red Beans & Rice Recipe:
- 2 medium sized onions chopped
- 1 cup chopped bell peppers (optional)
- 1 full set of celery stalks, sans the leafy top sections, slit and chopped
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 4 bay leaves
- 4 Large meaty ham hocks
- 12-14oz link of Polska Kielbasa Smoked Sausage cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
- 2 pounds of dried red beans
- 6 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 20 to 24 cups of water
- Cooked white rice
Method of Preparation:
- Soak red beans in 20 cups of hot water to start off with in large 2 gal + sized pot kept warm by using low setting on range or cooktop.
- After 2 hours, add the bay leaves, bell peppers, onions, celery, garlic, ham hocks, and seasonings.
- If necessary, add enough water to cover the contents in the pot.
- Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 2 hours.
- Add more water if the mixture becomes dry and thick.
- Add Kielbasa Sausage slices and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1- 1 1/2 hours, or until beans become soft. Keep the bottom of pot stirred up so mixture doesn’t cake and burn, an occurrence that will ruin the delicate flavor.
- When ready, the mixture should be creamy and the beans soft.
- The finished product should be soupy, not watery.
- Serve over cooked white rice with hot buttered crispy French bread. Sprinkle cayenne pepper over the top for a big boost in flavor.
Her (Our) Red Beans And Rice Highlights
- Use beans specifically called Red Beans and not the ones designated as Kidney Beans. There is a remarkable difference in flavor and Red Beans cook down much faster and better are much taste wise.
- Start them first thing in the morning on low heat. Stir them frequently so they don’t burn or cake the bottom of the pot.
- Use Ham Hocks that have decent chunks of meat attached to the bone and not poor substitutes.
- Replace Andouille Sausage with Kielbasa (aka. Polish Sausage) for a big boost in flavor.
- 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 as a substitute.
- A garlic spread is best for the bread when toasted.
- Flavor your plate with lots of Cayenne Pepper.
- Don’t worry about the calories contained in each serving because they are gonna be high. Instead, focus on the flavor and the fact that you are getting a boatload of fiber in each meal. Beans are also a vital ingredient that help your kidneys stay healthy.
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 a Puree’ because the beans will develop a sort of thickened “Roux” on their own after a day or so. Otherwise, you will wind up with a gummy or pasty meal when you reheat the bountiful recipe the next day or so, or even days later. Then you have to add water when you reheat it to keep the sauce from becoming pasty. That sauce needs to seep into your rice ro give it full flavor, and thick paste won’t do the trick.
If you play around with spices, do so in 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. As stated before, add enough water and stir in another batch of Kielbasa Sausage cut into slices to replace all the ones picked out on the first go around. Yummm!
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?
With that said, it is my personal theory that lifelong residents of the Crescent City area who have transitioned into senior citizen status, grew up with spicy foods on the table. This is in contrast to restaurants that cater to “older folks” in other parts of the country and usually serve “bland” tasting food to accommodate their patrons. I know, because I have tasted such fare and found it mostly lacking in flavor without some sort of “seasonings boost” to make it more palatable.
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 type of kick to bring out the flavor. Even my wife, who shuns spicy foods as a whole, makes sure a bottle of Cayenne Pepper is close at hand when a plate of this iconic dish is in front of her.
It is a comfort food at best that contains a lot of flavor if prepared right. Some of the better versions have secret spice blends that make them stand out. I think my wife’s version is certainly one of those. It’s kind of like what my Momma made, but tweaked up a notch or so here and there to make it even better.
I guess each chef (and chef-wanna-bees) would have to start with a good reliable cookbook list of ingredients and methods of preparation. If that is your leaning, then you can start including this and that to make it perfect. River Road Recipes was a starting point for us. What could be yours?
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