Lockdown Recipes: Red Beans and Rice
Since we’re all stuck at home and cooking more than usual, I wanted to share one of my favorite recipes from my childhood, which is also especially suited to our current stuck-at-home ways.1
Red Beans and Rice is a traditional Louisiana Creole dish. It’s cheap and extremely easy and low effort to make. The one major downside is that it takes several hours of simmering (that don’t require any attention); in normal times that’s a major disadvantage, but if you’re working from home that’s not a problem at all.
In fact, this dish was originally a solution to a working-from-home dilemma that Louisiana cooks faced. Monday was laundry day, and the women of the house were so busy doing the wash that they couldn’t spend all day tending food on the stove. So this hands-off dish became a traditional Monday dinner.
There are a lot of ways you can vary this dish. I’ll give two straightforward recipes: one for the traditional stovetop method, and a faster pressure-cooker method that I use during busier times that takes less time, both in prep and in waiting. But I also want to talk about what some of the steps are doing, and how you can change things up to get different flavor profiles if you want.
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1 chopped onion
- 4-5 ribs celery
- 1-2 chopped bell peppers
- 3 cloves garlic finely chopped garlic
- Tablespoon chopped parsley
- Teaspoon chopped thyme
- 1 pound dried red kidney beans
- 1-2 pounds smoked or andouille sausage, sliced into bite-size pieces
- 6 oz tomato paste (one small can)
- 2 bay leaves
- quarter cup of brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Traditional red beans
- In a large (at least two gallons) pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Sweat the onions, celery, and bell peppers for 5-10 minutes, until soft and onions are translucent.
- Add garlic, parsley, and thyme and sautee for a couple minutes more, until soft.
- Rinse kidney beans and add them to pot. Add water (or stock) until covered by an inch or two of water, and heat to a high simmer. Cover pot and leave to simmer.
- After a half hour or so, add meat and tomato paste, and stir to combine. Return to a simmer and cover.
- After another hour, add seasonings. Return to a simmer and cover again.
- Once every hour or so, check on the pot. Top it off with extra liquid if it’s starting to run low, and scrape the bottom a bit to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom.
- After six to eight hours, the beans should be basically disintegrated: you’ll see the shells floating in the liquid, but the insides of the bean will have absorbed into the liquid base and formed a rich, thick paste. At this point you might want to taste it and adjust seasonings to your preference.
- Serve over rice.
Pressure cooker red beans
Rinse the red beans. Then dump all the ingredients in the pressure cooker. Cook on high pressure for two hours, then simmer until consistency is good. Serve over rice.
(See how easy that was?)
Onions, celery, and bell peppers are the traditional base for New Orleans stocks and soups, known as the “Holy Trinity”. They serve the same role as the French mirepoix (onions, celery, and carrots) or the Spanish sofrito (garlic, onion, peppers, and tomatoes). If you like those other flavor profiles more, you can substitute a different aromatic base. You can also use whatever fat you like for the sauteeing.
Some people like to brown their aromatics, while others like to gently sweat them without browning. The flavor profiles are slightly different, so take your pick.
If you want to speed things up a bit, you can sweat your aromatics in a separate skillet while starting the boil on the red beans. I often find this easier to manage, not needing to stir the aromatics in the giant stock pot, but it does require a second pan.
The most important aspect here is the kidney beans. It is very important that they stay at a full boil for at least half an hour; kidney beans are toxic and it takes a good boiling to break those toxins down.
A lot of people like to soak their beans overnight before cooking with them. This makes the toxins break down a bit easier, and also makes them cook faster; it probably cuts the cooking time from eight hours or so down to six. It changes the flavor in a way I don’t like, so I don’t do it. But you might prefer that flavor!
You can definitely substitute in other beans, but you’ll get a different texture. Kidney beans are extremely tough and starchy and give the stock a nice body when completely broken down.
I like the flavor effect of adding a can of tomato paste, but it’s not especially traditional. This is totally optional.
Because the red beans add body, this broth works just fine with plain water. But if you have stock in your kitchen it can add extra layers of flavor and body to your dish. I generally start with homemade stock, and top it off with water as the cooking continues.
You can flavor this broth with nearly any meat you have. Traditionally, the cook would use the leftover bones from the Sunday roast to flavor the red bean broth on Monday. If you happen to have some chicken or pork bones left over, you can do far worse than adding them to the pot.
When I’m doing it in the pressure cooker, I often like to take a 3-4 pound bone-in pork shoulder and add that in place of the sausage. I get the broth richness from the bone, and the meat of the pork shoulder falls off into the stew nicely. I haven’t tried this in the traditional method but I’m sure it would work.
If you do use pre-chopped meat like sausage, you can brown it in a separate pan for extra flavor. Extra steps and an extra pan, but extra flavor; your call whether it’s worth it.
Andouille sausage is probably the most standard sausage choice right now. It’s spicy, so you may want something milder. It’s also a bit more expensive than I tend to want to go for this dish; the sausage can easily be more than half the cost of the entire dish. My default option is Hillshire Farms smoked sausage, but you can use whichever firm sausage you like.
And the dish does work fine with no meat at all, if you’d prefer a vegetarian option. Replace the butter with oil and you can make it vegan.
This is really flexible. To be honest, I primarily season with a healthy dose of Tony Chachere’s spice mix. I also add the sugar, and either a dollop of oyster sauce or a pinch of MSG powder.
But there are of course lots of options here. I don’t think the mustard is super traditional, but I very much like the effect.
Almost any spices you like can go here. I suspect coriander would be good. Swap out the cayenne pepper for black pepper, or for Tabasco sauce (very traditional in New Orleans food). Or you could change up the flavor profile entirely and push it towards your favorite cuisine. Use an Italian spice blend, or a Mexican blend, or an Indian blend, whatever strikes your fancy. And if you find something that works really well—let me know!
Did you make this? What did you think? Do you have a favorite lockdown recipe to share? Tweet me @ProfJayDaigle or leave a comment below.
Yeah, it would have made even more sense to post this two months ago. But two months ago I was trying to figure out how to teach three math classes over the internet instead of recipeblogging. ↩
Tags: Food Cooking New Orleans