With Fat Tuesday less than a week away, the desire for red beans and rice is strong.
I've been making red beans and rice ever since Paul Prudhomme saw fit to publish a recipe for it in “The Louisiana Kitchen” in 1989. It was the first hardback cookbook I ever purchased.
That's more than two decades of practice, which as we know makes perfect. But my colleague Cecilia “Celie” Rabalais was born and raised in New Orleans, where she first learned to make this Cajun staple more than four decades ago watching her mother, Madeline Anderson, and grandmother, Lillian Anderson, cook.
Celie's ancestors didn't scribble down recipes, because measurements were never discussed. She learned to cook the way red beans come to life: by absorption. Celie said she watched, learned and, eventually, was allowed to help prepare meals; the lessons dedicated to memory. Spices were added in pinches, handfuls, shakes and twists. Ingredients were called for in general terms like “a few,” “some” or “a piece.” Everything was “to taste.” While exact measurements weren't taught, trusted brand names were the bible.
“I taught my daughters to cook the same way I learned,” Celie said. “Now, if they cook it that way or not is up to them, but I'm sure that a lot of their meals are cooked by instinct, and they just don't realize because it's embedded in their brains,” she said in her unmistakable Cajun accent.
Celie married a true Cajun from Luling, La., named Gerry Rabalais. The Rabalais family moved to Luling from Plaucheville, La., deep in the heart of Cajun country. Celie, Gerry and their daughters, Heather and Christine (now Hasse), moved to Edmond in August 1991, bringing with them their taste for good, old-fashioned, home-cooked Cajun food. Red beans and rice is a staple.
“Let's face it. My husband and his best friend are Cajun. And Cajuns love their red beans and rice,” she said.
Celie said she doesn't have much use for eating red beans and rice herself anymore, but she makes them regularly, about five or so pounds at a time.
“Then I freeze them in individual servings,” she said. “It makes convenient meals or a snack.”
When it comes to ingredients, Celie uses Camellia brand beans and Tony Chachere and Zatarain's for spices. For the proteins, she avoids salt pork, as she's found it tends to make the beans too salty. Ham and a nice smoked sausage such as Cajun andouille is the way to go.
Celie said red beans and rice are usually served with hot French bread (butter optional), garlic bread or cornbread. You can serve it in a bowl topped with chopped parsley as a meal or a hearty side. Celie said, and I agree, the beans are always better the next day.
Since you might have to give up red beans and rice after Mardi Gras, you'd better make a big batch on Sunday and work your way to Tuesday.
Red Beans and Rice
1 pound red beans (Any red beans will work, but Celie says Camellia's are the best)
1 pound andouille sausage and/or ham diced (Celie likes to use a half-pound of each)
½ cup chopped green pepper
½ cup chopped yellow pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped, or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 teaspoons Cajun seasoning (Tony Chachere's or Zatarain's)
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped fine, or 1 teaspoon dried parsley
5 shakes of Louisiana Hot Sauce
10 cups of water
1 dried bay leaf, crushed
• Rinse and sort beans, removing any stones. Place beans in a large pot with 10 cups water over medium heat. Stir in Cajun seasoning, paprika, bay leaf, hot sauce, garlic and parsley. Cover.
• Render the meat in a medium-heat frying pan, draining on a paper towel when done. Pat extra grease off with a paper towel and discard. Stir meat into pot.
• Using residual grease in pan, saute peppers over medium to medium-high heat until softened. Stir peppers into beans.
• Reduce heat to low and simmer beans, stirring occasionally, until beans can be mashed easily, 1 to 3 hours. The longer they cook the better.
• Once beans have softened, remove 1 to 1½ cups of the beans and place in a mixing bowl and mash with a potato masher until they look pasty. Stir back into the pot. You may also do this with an immersion blender.
• Uncover the pot and simmer beans until you get the gravy thickened to your liking, mashing more beans if you desire.
• Serve over steamed or baked white rice and crusty French bread.