It’s Monday in New Orleans, do we even need to ask what we are eating?
For centuries cultures around the world have relied upon beans and rice as an inexpensive form of hearty sustenance. As far as the introduction in New Orleans, there are theories, but no one can say with certainty when what we now know as New Orleans-style red beans & rice stuck. We do know that by the turn of the 19th century, Creole cookbooks described preparations virtually identical to the way people make red beans & rice today.
The Washing Machine
Ok, so you are probably scratching your head wondering what a washing machine has to do with what we are eating? Well before washing machines were a thing or at least before they were so popular, the laundry had to be hand-washed which took A LOT of time and hard work. Monda’s were known as laundry day, so being ever-resourceful New Orleanians knew they needed a meal that could basically cook itself. Ain’t nobody got time on Monday to be standing over the stove all day. So in New Orleans, Mondays are for Red Beans.
The kidney beans need to soak overnight, so Sunday night beans start soaking. After the beans are soaked and drained- you put them in a pot on the stove, add the trinity and some seasonings. Not hip to the “trinity”? You will want to learn this combo- it’s your celery, onions & peppers. If you are wondering what seasonings: thyme, cayenne pepper, and bay leaf. You’ll also want to use that ham bone leftover from Sunday night’s supper. It’s a one-pot, slow simmering dish that is easy, but delicious and relatively inexpensive. Tip: Make sure to crack one end of the ham bone or that one end is open… this will let that thick marrow from the bone leak into the simmering beans and coat them. Side note: My mouth is watering.
Red Beans & Ricely Yours
The great Louis Armstrong was known to sign his letters this way after his favorite food. Below is his recipe:
POPS FAVORITE DISH
By – Louis and Lucille Armstrong
Creole Red Beans (Kidney) And Rice
(Use 2 qt. pot with cover)
1 lb. Kidney Beans
1/2 lb. Salt Pork (Strip of lean, strip of fat)
(Slab Bacon may be used if preferred)
1 small can of tomato sauce (if desired)
6 small Ham Hocks or one smoked Pork Butt
2 onions diced
1/4 green (bell) pepper
5 tiny or 2 medium dried peppers
1 clove garlic – chopped
Salt to taste
Wash beans thoroughly, then soak overnight in cold water. Be sure to cover beans. To cook, pour the water off beans, add fresh water to cover. Add salt pork or bacon, let come to a boil over a full flame in a covered pot. Turn flame down to slightly higher than low and let cook one and one-half hours. Add diced onions, bell pepper, garlic, dried peppers, and salt. Cook three hours. Add tomato sauce, cook one and one-half hours more, adding water whenever necessary. Beans and meat should always be just covered with water (juice), never dry. This serves 6 or more persons.
To prepare with Ham Hocks or Pork Butts: Wash meat, add water to cover and let come to a boil in a covered pot over medium flame. Cook one and one-half hours. Then add beans (pour the water off), add rest of ingredients to meat. Cook four and one-half hours. Add water when necessary.
For non-pork eaters, chicken fat may be used instead of salt pork. Corned beef or beef tongue may be used instead of ham hocks or butts.
2 cups white rice
2 cups of water
One teaspoon of salt
One-pot with cover
Wash rice thoroughly, have water and salt come to a boil. Add rice to boiling water. Cook until rice swells and water is almost evaporated. Cover and turn flame down low. Cook until rice is grainy. To ensure grainy rice, always use one and one-half cups water to one cup of rice. “To serve”
On dinner plate — Rice then beans, either over rice or beside rice as preferred.
This is a long-standing, time-honored tradition in New Orleans. We are as known for our Red Beans as we are the Fleur De Lis or the celebration of Carnival. And if you are thinking it’s just beans on top of some rice, you aren’t thinking about New Orleans.
The art of the season is often best shown in simple dishes. Throw in pork tasso, ham hock or sausage, that’s been simmered for a long time leaving a pot of rich, creamy perfection. Some folks have a specific hot sauce they must have with theirs and/or maybe a piece of cornbread or French bread to soak up the deliciousness. Maybe it’s a green salad so that vinegar makes its way to the beans or as a side dish with your fried chicken.
And yes, there are even vegetarian options.
Vegetarian Tip: Add a dash of liquid smoke to the pot.
However, you prepare it and however, you eat it, like so many things in New Orleans it’s personal and a reflection of the person enjoying it!