If you could put New Orleans on a plate and eat it, it would look and taste like Red Beans and Rice. A pot of red beans slowly simmering with seasoning meat and the Trinity represents the simple and frugal character of South Louisiana cuisine; inexpensive ingredients and uncomplicated cooking methods. It doesn’t get much simpler than Sweet Daddy D's New Orleans Red Beans and Rice.
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[Publishers Note: I originally published this article in February 2018. This update provides some improvements to the step-by-step instructions and web-friendly photographs of each step. Let me know what you think.]
Red Beans and Rice on Monday!
Here's the perfect Mardi Gras fare: a bucket of Popeyes Fried Chicken and a big plate of Aunt Emily's Red Beans and Rice! Throw me something, Mister! Don't be fooled, this is not just a humble pot of beans.
In New Orleans and South Louisiana, Red Beans and Rice is a tradition and culinary phenomenon that ranks up there with Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and a cochon de lait. It’s hard-wired into our cultural fabric and it's the thing to eat on Mondays. Despite the lore about how it has taken over Mondays, I don't really care how that started! All I know is that Red Beans and Rice is so good that it’s earned a revered spot on the weekly food plan for an entire region...if it’s Monday, order the special...Red Beans and Rice!
Like many other Louisiana staples, everyone has their favorite recipe, most handed down through generations. Honestly, I doubt I've ever had a bad dish of RB&B but I hate to let the secret out of the bag - the best recipes are simple and naturally no-angst.
Here's What You Need
Dry Red Kidney Beans
Here's what you need to know about the seasoning meat:
A ham bone from a smoked ham with a good bit of meat left on seems to be a perfect match for the beans. If you don’t have access to a ham bone, smoked ham hock, smoked ham shank (or even some smoked turkey necks are excellent), tasso or pickled meats are also very good seasoning meats.
Smoked sausage cooks along with the beans and influences the overall flavor profile in an overt way. Depending on your preference, use spicy or mild sausage and one with high-fat content. The fat will render and add great flavor to the beans. Experiment with different sausages and you will see what I mean.
The Trinity plus garlic!
Herb and Spice Blend
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If you're looking for authenticity, I highly recommend grabbing some Camellia Red Kidney Beans.
Here's What You Do
First...you have a beer. If you get in the right frame of mind, putting this together is easy, but you do need a little preparation. Your mise en place starts with an open beer. Sit down and read the recipe from top to bottom while you sip. Make sure you have all the ingredients and equipment that you need (there’s not that many!) and know what to do with them. It’s simple if you follow these steps:
Soak your beans
Soaking your dry beans in water will help soften them and reduce cooking time. Just place the dry beans in a colander and rinse cold water. Sort through the beans by hand and remove any pebbles, weird-looking beans and anything else that is not a red kidney bean. Depending upon how much time you have there are at least three soaking methods from which to choose:
Overnight soak. Place the dry beans in a bowl, cover with cold water and set aside for at least 8 hours. The beans will soften somewhat and get all crinkly. Some of the beans will float to the top, some people discard the floaters but I always use all of the beans. When you're ready to cook, simply discard the water and you are ready to go.
Quick 3-hour method. Bring a pot of water to boil, add the beans. Once the water returns to a boil remove the pot from the heat and cover. Let the beans sit and soak for about 3 hours. Then, discard the water and they are ready.
Quick 1-hour method. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the beans. Return the water to a boil for about 3 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover and let the beans sit and soak for 1 hour. Then, discard the water and they are ready.
If you forget or decide not to soak your beans, no one will cancel Mardi Gras. In fact, there is some question if soaking is even necessary or beneficial but I doubt you’ll catch many old Louisiana cooks not soaking their red beans. If you want to know more about soaking and other bean-centric topics, check out my Lagniappe post on dem beans.
Prepare the meats
Slice the sausage into medallions and set aside; get your seasoning meat ready. There isn’t much that needs to be done with the seasoning meat to prepare it, but if you are using a ham bone, make sure that it’s trimmed to a reasonable size. If you use smoked ham hocks, just throw them into the pot whole.
Prepare the remaining ingredients
Chop the Trinity (yellow onions, celery and bell peppers) and the garlic and place everything into one prep bowl.
Mix the Herbs and Spice Blend together in a small bowl. Separate the kosher salt because it goes in at the end. Set all this aside and you’re ready to go, time for a swig. Don’t forget to tell some friends you’re cooking a pot of Red Beans, you’ll get some company.
Start by browning the sausage
Place a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat and sauté the sausage medallions until some fat has been rendered and the sausage is starting to brown. This usually takes about 5 minutes. Remove the browned sausage with a slotted spoon and set it aside. Make sure to leave the rendered fat and any fond from the sausage in the pot because this is the foundation upon which to build the flavors.
Now its time for the beans
Drain the soaking water from the beans and discard the water. Place the kidney beans in the Dutch oven and stir to mix them with the sausage renderings. Place the seasoning meat and bay leaves into the Dutch oven with the beans. Add enough cold water to cover the beans by about an inch. (See that nice rendered fat floating at the top of the water...that’s some good.)
Slowly simmer the beans
Place the Dutch oven over high heat and bring the beans to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Simmer for about an hour, stirring from time to time so that it doesn't stick. If the beans are sticking you may need to lower the heat.
Add the vegetables, sausage and Herbs and Spices
After one hour, add the browned sausage along with the Trinity, garlic and about ⅔s of the Herb and Spice Blend (no salt yet). Mix everything together well.
Continue to simmer the beans
The rest of the cooking is done by simmering, stirring occasionally and sequentially covering and uncovering the pot. After the initial hour, cooking time depends on when the beans get soft, but it’s basically like this:
- Simmer 30 minutes, uncovered.
- Simmer 30 minutes, covered.
- Home Stretch!
Make sure during these times that you stir the pot occasionally so that it doesn't stick to the bottom (lower the heat if it's sticking too much) and add water to keep the beans just covered if you need to.
The Home Stretch
Take the cover off the pot for the home stretch. The beans should be getting thick and creamy. Test the beans to see if they are soft enough for you. If the beans are still a little tough, keep simmering uncovered and test every 10 minutes or so. When you taste test the beans at this stage, remember you haven't added any salt yet, so they will be a little bland. If it seems like the beans are not getting soft after all this time, check out my Lagniappe article on why beans may not soften as you want.
Salt the beans
When the beans are the way you like them, it’s time to finally add the salt. Start with about a teaspoon of salt, give them a good stir and taste. Add more salt a little at a time until they are right. Correct the overall seasoning, if needed, with the reserved Herb and Spice Blend. Remove any meat from your seasoning meat, discard the bones and fat and return the meat to the beans. Place the cover on the Dutch oven and set them off the heat while you cook the rice.
Cook the rice
I use parboiled long-grain white rice but you can use any kind of rice you like. Boil-a-Bag? I've used it! If you have a trusted method to cook rice that works for you, go for it. If not, here’s what I do:
To cook the rice, I add about 4 to 6 cups of cold water to a saucepan, bring it to a boil and add a large pinch of kosher salt. Stir in 1 to 2 cups of uncooked rice. Each cup of uncooked rice will yield 3 cups of cooked rice. Return the water to a boil. Stir occasionally and check the rice for doneness after about 10-11 minutes. (Add more water if you need to, this is not a method where the rice absorbs all the water-you are boiling the rice in the water, so add more if you need to). Taste the rice to test the doneness. Drain the rice in a colander. I usually rinse the rice, but it is not necessary. The grains of rice should be separate (as opposed to all stuck together), and tender but not mushy. The only way to screw this up is to undercook it or overcook it, so make sure you test it after 10 minutes and keep it going until it's to your liking.
Plate up dem Red Beans and Rice and Enjoy!
Take the bay leaves out, mound up some rice on a plate or bowl and add the Red Beans.
That’s it, all there is to it
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Hints and Tips
The beans are ready when they are soft and as creamy as you like them. To get there, here is a summary of the cooking times:
> 1 hour, uncovered, with just beans, seasoning meat, bay leaves and water. After adding the rest of the ingredients:
> 30 minutes, uncovered
> 30 minutes, covered
> 15 minutes to an hour, uncovered until done
They are actually Red Kidney Beans. This recipe is developed with dry beans and the only beans I use are Camellia Brand Red Kidney Beans. You can substitute your favorite brand.
Definitely have some hot sauce handy, or some chopped onions, or even pickled cocktail onions (a favorite of the Mother Unit). My favorite condiment in South Louisiana is vinegar with peppers. Try a few (or more) dashes on your Red Beans and Rice and you’ll love the explosion of flavors! What's your favorite way to jazz dem beans?
These babies are a complete meal in themselves but also go well with a lot of things-grilled smoked sausage, stuffed bell peppers, hamburger patties, pork chops, fried chicken, fried fish, meatloaf.... anything you can imagine.
If you’ve been cooking your beans for hours and they are still hard, my first guess is that your beans are too old. The freshness of dry beans matters, but they should last 2 to 3 years stored in a cool, dry place at room temperature in an airtight, sealed package. If the dry beans develop an odor or mold, it’s time to toss them. Another issue may be the altitude. If you want to nerd out on all things beans, check out my article Do You Soak Your Beans Before Cooking?
Leftover cooked beans can be kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. Place the cooled beans in a shallow, airtight container within a couple of hours after cooking. Reheat in the microwave or saucepan, adding a little water to thin them out, if needed.
To freeze leftover beans, place them in a shallow, airtight container and into the freezer within 2 hours of cooking. They should last about 6 months. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight and reheat on the stove or microwave.
Cooked white rice can be frozen if placed in an airtight container (using a vacuum sealer is optimal) for up to 6 months. To reheat rice on the stove, bring a saucepan of water to a boil, then place the frozen rice into the boiling water for a couple of minutes until the grains are separated and warmed through. You can also reheat defrosted rice in the microwave.
Get in touch with your inner Creole cook and try some these great recipes:
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Yeah You Right!
Red Beans and Rice
Here's What You Need
- 1 pound dry kidney beans Soaked over night in cold water
- Seasoning meat See Recipe Notes
- 1 pound smoked sausage
- 1 medium yellow onion chopped
- 1 medium green beel pepper chopped
- 2 stalks Celery chopped
- 4 or 5 cloves garlic chopped
Herb and Spice Blend
- 2 teaspoons Oregano
- 2 teaspoons Basil
- 1 teaspoon Thyme
- 2 teaspoons creole seasoning
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- To Taste kosher salt See Recipe Noptes
Long Grain Rice
- 1 cup uncooked rice
Here's What You Do
- Soak dry beans in cold water overnight. (See Recipe Notes for alternate soaking methods)
- Get all the ingredients you'll need together and prepped; set a Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a lid on the stove.
- Chop up all your veggies and set aside; Slice sausage into medallions and set aside; Mix the all the Herb and Spice Blend ingredients except the salt (see Recipe Notes) in a small bowl and set this aside also.
Cook 'em Up
- Sauté the sausage over medium high heat in the Dutch oven you will use to cook the beans. Once the sausage is browned and the fat is rendered, remove the sausage from the pan and set aside, leaving all the rendered fat in the pan. About 5 to 7 minutes
- Drain the beans and discard the soaking water. Add the soaked beans, the seasoning meat and the bay leafs to the pot with enough cold water to cover the beans by about an inch; bring to a boil over high heat. Once it starts to boil, lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and simmer for an hour. Stir occationally.
- After an hour simmering slowly, add the chopped veggies, the browned sausage and about ⅔ of the Herb and Spice Blend without salt (reserving the remainder) to the pot and stir well to mix everything together. If needed, add a little more water to keep the beans just covered. Continue to simmer over medium-low heat uncovered for about 30 minutes. Stir often so they don't stick.
- After the 30 minutes uncovered, stir well, lower heat, cover the pot and simmer for another 30 minutes. Stir often because the beans will want to stick to the pot.
- After 30 minutes covered, remove the cover and simmer over low heat until the beans are soft and creamy-this should take another 15 minutes but may take up to an hour. Stir often so they don't stick. Add a little more water if they are getting too thick.
- While the beans are simmering, cook the rice according to the instructions on the bag or box.
- Once the beans are as creamy and tender as you like them- turn off the heat, remove the seasoning meat from the pot (if it has bones); take the meat off the bones and return the meat to the pot.
- Now is the time to taste for seasoning and salt. Start with about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, stir well and taste. If you think the beans could use more seasoning, add some or all of the reserved Herb and Spice Blend, salt and/or ground black pepper.
- Remove the bay leaves and serve over rice.
Quick Review of the Time
- As far as the cooking time, it will vary with the beans, but here is a summary: 1 Hour covered with just beans, seasoning meat, bay leaves and cold water covering beans; ½ hour uncovered after adding veggies, spices and sausage; ½ hour covered; Final 15 minutes to an hour uncovered.