No, no Sunday Brunch today – I made two recipes I’ve posted before: Roasted Red Pepper and Pablano Quiche and Southwestern Spoon Bread, along with plenty of bacon (The Picky Young One had three scrambled eggs with cheese, five slices of bacon, two pieces of toast with lots of Amish butter and two huge glasses of milk – ah, a hint of things to come; there’s nothing like a teenage boy for a nice increase in your grocery bill). Instead, I thought I’d get all Southern Foodie on you, talk a little bit about beans, and post my recipe for Red Beans and Rice.
As John Raven of texascooking.com writes, “Texas’ culinary reputation may be based on chili, barbecue and chicken fried steak, but the state was raised on beans.” Pinto beans, butter beans and black-eyed peas (which, yes, are really a bean) specifically. And although I don’t think I ever ate a kidney bean until I was an adult, and the only white or navy beans I ever ate while growing up were Campbell’s Pork and Beans, it wasn’t uncommon to find lima beans (I adore succotash), pole beans and, of course, black beans on the menu.
Beans are one of the oldest cultivated foods and one of the most widespread. Inexpensive to grow, easy to preserve and simple to prepare, beans can be the savior of a strapped grocery budget. High in fiber and many essential nutrients, when cooked with even small amounts of vegetables and meat and served with a grain like rice or corn, they become a nutritional powerhouse. To this day, two of my best comfort foods are slow-cooked pinto beans over hot cornbread (with just a smidgen of ketchup) and Hoppin’ John, that marvelous Southern dish of bacon, onions, rice and black-eyed peas.
It wasn’t until I was in my 30s, however, that I had the good fortune of eating New Orleans style red beans and rice. Rich, spicy and filling, they are the ultimate – and most famous – comfort food of southern Louisiana, and the preparation and ingredients are hotly debated by devotees of the dish.
Traditionally served on Mondays, the beans were originally cooked with the ham bone from Sunday’s ham dinner, and contained no other meat; red beans and rice purists are contemptuous of the addition of any type of sausage. Indeed, the inclusion of smoked sausages such as Andouille seems to have been popularized by such celebrity chefs as Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. As for me, I love smoked sausage, and I especially love Andouille, so yeah – it’s going in my red beans and rice. (For the record, I put beans in my Texas chili, too, so you can go ahead and label me a culinary heretic – not that I’ll give a damn.)
So, I give you my recipe for Red Beans and Rice with Andouille Sausage. If you can’t find Andouille, just about any smoked sausage will do. The flavor is subtle and not overly spicy – at least, not by this Texan’s standards – so you should always keep plenty of hot sauce on hand so individuals can add it to their own tastes. The substitution of salt pork for the ham bone or ham hock eliminates the necessity of any other added salt.
Red Beans and Rice with Andouille Sausage
serves 8, or Beloved for a couple of meals
1 lb. small red beans (kidney beans are fine), picked over and rinsed
1 large onion, diced
1 large green bell pepper, diced
5 – 6 stalkes celery, thinly sliced
2 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces salt pork, diced
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
2 bay leaves, crushed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 – 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
Tabasco or Crystal hot sauce, to taste
1 pound smoked sausage, sliced on the bias
Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Drain the beans and place them in a large stock pot or Dutch oven with enough cold water to cover. Bring the beans to a rolling boil, making sure they are always covered by water (if the water should begin to evaporate, add boiling water, as to not interrupt the cooking process). Boil the beans for about 45 minutes, until the beans are tender but still firm. Drain.
While the beans are boiling, sauté the onions, celery, bell pepper (known as The Trinity) until the onions turn translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally. After the beans are boiled and drained, return them to the pot and add the sautéed vegetables, salt pork, smoked sausage, seasonings, and just enough water to cover.
Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for 3 to 5 hours, until the beans become soft, the vegetables begin to disappear and the entire mixture thickens. Taste and adjust seasonings as it cooks. Stir occasionally, making sure the mixtures does not burn and/or stick to the bottom of the pot. Serve over hot white rice.