Catch It Down in New Orleans: Red Beans and Rice

It’s an over-produced stereotype, but New Orleans Square in Disneyland has always been my favorite section of the park. I’m not sure whether it was the jazz music I grew up listening to being played in live context, (and I mean actual good jazz – Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Vince Guaraldi, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. Not that Kenny G stuff), fake mint juleps that appealed to my novice impressions of cocktails, or the Blue Bayou restaurant in the badass ambiance of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but I remember being very solidly hooked on the idea of New Orleans.

And then Disney released a gem of a movie about a Princess who actually knew how to cook in 2010.

Almost two years ago, I read a fantastic memoir called “Trail of Crumbs” by Kim Sunee. The memoir uses the food of New Orleans Ms. Sunee grew up eating with her adopted family to extrapolate the theme of searching for home, i.e. a place to belong. Her romantic writing style was exactly what almost-graduate me needed to recenter. This book provided me with the base recipe for Red Beans and Rice, but I’ve simplified it quite a bit.

What? I didn’t have a ham hock handy. We don’t tend to cook large cuts of meat very often, and per usual, I was nervous about how this would turn out. Oh wait, I didn’t explain why a ham hock is usually used in the preparation of red beans and rice.

Red Beans and Rice is typically made for Monday dinner, so leftover ham from large Sunday dinners doesn’t go to waste. It’s a frugal option, since families in “golden age” New Orleans historically spent more money on Sunday dinner than any other day. It was a way to save money and time after the stress that comes with putting together a large family meal. Life must go easy on us when it can, and this rule applies to our food.

In the traditional preparation of this dish, everything is cooked together in one pot, so the juice from the ham and red kidney beans stains the rice a luscious brick-red.

A large part of me simplifying this dish was deciding to steam the rice separately, then spoon the bean mixture on top for a sauce. My fretful simplification also turns this from an hour-to-two-hour dish into 30-minute meal. Rachael Ray, eat your heart out and go to bed satisfied, because now I understand why you made a killing on that concept.

This is the first time I’ve liked red kidney beans outside of my Dad’s chili. In an interesting act of fate, Dad also happens to be a huge fan of red beans and rice. Hopefully I’ve made him proud with this one.

Red Beans and Rice is great comfort food, so make it when you’re hungover, stressed, fretful, etc.

No-Ham-Hock-Required Red Beans and Rice (Click for the Recipe Card)

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces diced thick-cut bacon
  • 1 finely chopped medium onion
  • 1 finely chopped celery rib
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • The equivalent of 1 finely diced pickled jalapeno
  • 1/4 cup jarred roasted red Italian peppers – Traditionally, peppadews are used. If you can find these, PLEASE use them and tell me what it changes the flavor to! I was distraught when I couldn’t locate them.
  • Two 15-ounce cans red kidney beans
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Steamed White Rice

Crisp up the bacon in a large pan over Medium-High heat. If you want, sprinkle the bacon with ground cinnamon to give it a warm, well-rounded, and special taste. (I mean, do you need more reason than that? Do it.)

Once the bacon is crisp, toss in the onion, celery, garlic, jalapeno, and peppers. Stir this up until everything is soft and luscious.

Add the red beans with their liquid and the chicken broth. Turn heat to High and bring to a boil – it won’t take long.

Once everything is boiling, turn the heat down to Medium and let everything simmer/reduce for 8-ish minutes. Stir occasionally so nothing boils over.

Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon over steamed rice to serve.

“Rich people, poor people all got needs/Dreams do come true in New Orleans”

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