Red Beans and Rice

The classic New Orleans dish. There are SO many different ways to make it: this recipe is more of a guideline than anything else. I cobbled it together from about 3 different sources and after a bunch of trial and error, this is my current favorite iteration. WARNINGS! 1) Done properly, this is a two-day process, and; 2) This recipe makes a LOT – you will need a really big pot, 12 quarts minimum. It freezes really well, though.

  • 2 pounds of dry red kidney beans
  • 6 ribs of celery, coarsely chopped
  • 7-9 cloves of minced garlic
  • 2 large white onions, coarsely chopped
  • 3 large green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
  • 2 large smoked ham hocks (or substitute 3/4 pound of diced smoked ham if you simply can’t find ham hock – a shame)
  • 3 pounds of good spicy smoked sausage – andouille if you can find it – sliced on the bias
  • 1.5 tsp dried thyme leaves, crushed
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • Several dashes of Crystal or Tabasco hot sauce
  • Several dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 3-4 tsp creole seasoning blend
  • 1-2 tsp salt

The night before, put the beans into a pot, and cover them with lots of cold water – you will need at least 4 inches of water on top of the beans, if not more. Soak them overnight. Soaking the beans overnight reduces the cooking time, and also reduces some of the… err… deleterious effects of bean consumption, if you know what I mean.

In the morning, drain the water from the beans, and put fresh water in the pot. Bring the beans to a rolling boil, and cook for 45-60 minutes until they are tender but not falling apart. Make sure to keep the beans completely covered in water while you are cooking them, or they will get hard and nasty-tasting.

While the beans are cooking, sauté the onions, celery, and bell pepper until the onion just starts to turn translucent. Add in the garlic and cook a couple more minutes (don’t cook it too long – if the garlic browns, it will turn bitter).

Drain the cooked beans, and dump everything into your big cooking pot in this order: Ham hocks, celery/onion/bell pepper/garlic, half of the sausage (reserve the other half for later), beans, and all of the seasonings except for the salt. Now shake the pot a bit to settle everything: you want it as compact as possible for when you add the water (adding too much water is where you can really screw up the dish.)

Fill up the pot with cold water until you can just see the waterline about to cover the top of the beans. Don’t make the mistake of over-filling the pot with water, or it will turn out more like soup – you want the end result to be thick like stew. You can always add a little more water later.

Crank up the heat until the mixture comes to a full boil, then turn it down to a simmer for about 2.5-3.0 hours. Stir it occasionally, so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.

At about the 2 hour mark, fish out the ham hocks. Pull off all of the meat and dump it back in the pot, and throw the fat and bones away. Continue simmering.

When the beans really start to break down and thicken up, dump in the reserved sausage, and salt to taste. Simmer for about another 20 minutes and then turn off the heat (you should be at around the 3 hour mark now, but you can go longer if you need to). You can eat it now, but it always tastes better if you let it sit overnight in the fridge to let the flavors further combine.

Serve over hot rice, and eat with some good French bread and a frosty beverage!

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NOTES:

  • For those of you in the Seattle area, the sausage I use is half Hempler’s Andouille, half Double-D Meats double-smoked bratwurst. If you can’t find these in your area, any sausage that is smoked and has pork in it (and maybe some garlic) would work fine.
  • If your beans do not seem to be thickening up by the 3 hour mark, you may have gotten old beans from the store. Try pulling out a few scoops of the beans from the pot, mashing them up in a bowl, and then dumping them back in.
  • I know that I just got through telling you to make sure not to add too much water, but…  This recipe also make a really hearty soup if you add a teeny bit more water, and drop in a handful of chopped green onions right before serving.  So if you added too much water, make lemons out of lemonade and serve “Red Bean Soup” for dinner!

My Classic Mojito

The Mojito has apparently become the new “in” drink over the past year or so. However, I think is is also one of the most bastardized drinks around – I have had some REALLY awful mojitos in some very nice bars. To my mind, a properly-made mojito is light, fresh, and balanced, without the overwhelming taste of rum, mint, or that awful “mojito drink mix”. If the drink is neon green in color, then it is NOT a real mojito; they used some crappy pre-made mix – probably margarita mix.

• 1.75 oz light rum (any decent light rum is fine)
• 1.75 oz simple syrup (preferably made with unrefined sugar)
• half of a good-sized lime
• 6-8 small mint leaves, 3-4 large
• crushed ice
• club soda

Fill a large (18-20 oz) glass about half-full of crushed ice. Cut the half-lime into 3-4 wedges, squeeze them into the glass, and then dump the squeezed wedges into the glass. Add in the fresh mint leaves, rum, and simple syrup (you can substitute cane juice for simple syrup if you happen to live in an area where it is available). Now muddle everything together, which basically means using a wooden spoon or muddler (available in bar supply stores – looks like a tiny baseball bat) to smash everything in with the crushed ice to combine the flavors. You don’t want to grind the mint leaves into pulp, but you do want to make sure they get a bit crushed. Fill to the top with club soda and stir.

Notes: This is very much a “to-taste” recipe. Some people like a little more lime, some like a little more sweetness, etc. Play around with it, and find what you like best.

Mojito

Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is used to sweeten lots of different drinks, and it is handy to have on hand in the refrigerator when you need it. Yes, I know that you shouldn’t really need a recipe for simple syrup, but here it is anyway.

The ratio of water to sugar is 1:1 – e.g. if you are using two cups of water, then you will use two cups of sugar. Bring the water to a rolling boil, and then add in your sugar. Stir constantly until it is back at a rolling boil and all of the sugar is completely dissolved. Take it off the heat, and cool as noted below.

Good old refined white sugar is fine, but I usually use turbinado sugar (aka “Sugar in the Raw”) that has not been fully refined. It has a little bit of that molasses flavor in it, and gives a little more character to your drinks (especially mojitos).

Warm sugar water is a great place for bacteria to grow, so you want to cool it down pretty quick. I will usually cover the bottom of a large bowl with ice cubes, put the pan with the hot sugar water on top of the ice cubes, and stir until it is cool. Store it in the refrigerator – it will keep for a couple of months in there. I keep mine in a big decorative glass container meant for olive oil – it looks nice, and has a built-in pour spout.