Well, well, well. Let’s just say that the first two weeks of kindergarten have both tested and tightened the routines at our house. But the week before the first day of school was even more of a challenge, as I was in a frenzy trying to get everything ready for the start of school while simultaneously trying to pack as much fun as possible into the last days of summer.
…Which is how I found myself sitting in gridlock on I-285 at 5:30 on a Wednesday evening in mid-August, my daughter in the middle of a total hissyfit and my son loudly complaining about said hissyfit, taking the time to thank the good Lord above that in my freezer, there was a zipper bag full of red beans, and finding hope in the knowledge that approximately 25 minutes – or about the length of a tifaux’ed episode of Curious George – after we pulled in the garage, I’d be spooning bowls of red beans and rice out for my famished, hissyfitting children.
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to the recipe as red beans and rice, even though I’m really only going to tell you how to make the beans. But to me, red beans and rice (heck, let’s simplify this further: RB&R) are the ultimate in large batch, beautifully freezable cooking. In fact, I don’t know why you’d make RB&R and not make enough to freeze for later. It freezes so perfectly and reheats so easily and tastes so crazy good – RB&R truly improves over time, even when that time is spent in the freezer, I swear.
Also, if you’ve ever heard me go on about RB&B, you know that I feel strongly that to truly have an effortlessly creamy end result, you’ve got to use Camellia brand beans.
Of course the recipe will work with any brand of beans – I’m intrigued by the red kidneys that Rancho Gordo offers from time to time – but I try to stick to Camellias. They’re no longer available in Atlanta (to my knowledge), but they’re ubiquitous in Louisiana and its immediate vicinity, and so long as I have a steady supplier (thanks, Mom!), they’re my brand of choice. You can find them online and if you poke around sites like Chowhound, you can also get tips on where to find the pride of Harahan, LA in your neighborhood. If you can’t get Camellias, I’d say that the fresher the bean you can use, the better. Again, please don’t be afraid to make this recipe without Camellias – but if you can get your hands on some, definitely use them.
I generally use the recipe on the bag of beans as my guide – the official Camellia Brand recipe is below with my additions and notes:
- 1 lb Camellia Brand Red (Kidney) Beans – or whatever good dried red kidney you feel like using
- 1/2 lb ham or seasoning meat – I like to use a ham hock or, if you or someone you love has had a honeybaked ham recently, the leftover ham bone makes for an incredible pot of red beans. (FYI – you can buy just ham bones at the Honeybaked Ham store.)
- 8-10 cups water (you may need to add more as the beans cook down)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded chopped – you can also peel if you have a hard time digesting bell peppers
- 1 toe garlic, chopped
- 2 Tbs celery, chopped
- 2 Tbs parsley, chopped
- 1 large bay leaf
- Salt to taste – Salt and pepper are great, but I always also season my red beans with either Tony Cachere’s or Paul Prudhomme’s seasoning blends. I am especially partial to Paul Prudhomme’s Cajun Meat Magic as a seasoning for RB&R.
Rinse and sort beans. Cover beans with water and start to cook over low fire. Render meat in skillet, remove and set aside. In skillet, sauté onion, garlic, parsley and celery in meat drippings. Add meat, bay leaf, salt and pepper to beans. Boil gently, stirring occasionally for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Add water while cooking if necessary. Serve with long grain rice. The Camellia people are talking nonsense, here – you will need way more than 1 ½ hours to cook the beans.
Okay, I cook my beans a little bit differently. It’s kind of a two pot method, but it’s worth having to wash another pot. I soak the beans in one pot (or a large bowl) overnight (you can use a quick-soak method, of course, if you prefer). In the second pot – a large one, because it’s what you’re going to use to cook the beans – render the meat and, if necessary, add a little bit of oil after you remove the meet if the pan still seems a little dry. Add the onion, parsley, bell pepper, and celery and cook in the meat drippings until they’re translucent. Add the garlic and stir and cook a minute or so until it’s fragrant. Add the meat, bay leaf, and the beans with their soaking water, and add more water if necessary. Bring to a boil and then simmer the beans until they start to get tender, about an hour and a half or two hours. When the beans begin to get tender, add the salt and/or seasonings. Your house is going to start to smell really good right about now. Let the beans continue to cook until they’re done, adding water (or chicken stock) if necessary. When the beans are done, if they’re not as creamy as you’d like, scoop out a few cups of beans and broth and blend them in a blender or food processor, and then return the blended beans to the pot. Check the seasoning again, and then serve over hot rice.
I also like to serve RB&R with sausage, either smoked or andouille. I’ll generally cook it separately from the beans and then serve it on top or on the side because I like to get a good, crispy Maillard reaction going.
This is totally a recipe that you make on a weekend afternoon. Have some for dinner that night, and then freeze the rest in freezer bags in whatever quantity you prefer. It takes very little effort, a decent chunk of time that’s mainly just checking and stirring, and leaves you with several nights’ worth of dinner. RB&R is great with a salad and dome good French bread (or even decent supermarket French bread) and butter, but it’s also great on its own. One pound of beans will make 6-8 servings.