Making Red Beans and Rice is a Beloved Ritual
A beloved ritual and tradition.
Making red beans and rice is a beloved ritual and tradition in New Orleans, and for many, prepping the beans and vegetables and gently coaxing that pot of goodness into a state of creamy perfection is both a pleasurable experience and a bit of kitchen therapy. There’s just no rushing the process of slow-cooking red beans on your stovetop, and yet there’s nothing difficult or tricky about it either. It may take time, but it’s actually hard to get it wrong. There are so many different ways to deliciously flavor and season your red beans, that about the only thing you need to be concerned with is not burning them. And when you’re done, you will have created something truly worth savoring with family and friends.
No matter who you are or where you live, you can learn to cook a pot of New Orleans-style red beans that really gets it right. Simply set aside some time at home – a Sunday afternoon is great – and follow these step-by-step instructions and tips. (Bonus: some say a pot of red beans made on a Sunday tastes even better the next day, and lucky for you, makes enough for several lunches.)
New Orleans-style red beans done right.
First up, to soak or not to soak your beans? As with many aspects of making red beans, there’s no right or wrong answer here. If you want to reduce the actual cooking time on the stove, then by all means soak your beans starting the night before. Rinse and sort beans in a colander, pour into a large bowl, and cover them with fresh, cold water – about an inch or two above the beans.
The next day, you’ll see that the beans have soaked up much of the water. Several beans might look split open. No worries, that’s as it should be. Drain what’s left of the water in the bowl.
Next, chop the aromatic vegetables known as “the trinity”. The trinity consists of onion, green bell pepper and celery, usually in equal amounts. (If you live in south Louisiana, you can take a shortcut at this point and use a container of pre-chopped trinity readily available in local grocery stores.) Otherwise, chop the veggies ahead of time, so they’re ready to go into the pot once the sausage is browned. Note that you can even chop your veggies and freeze them for later use.
Now, slice up a pound of smoked sausage, and brown it over medium heat in a large heavy pot. Note: a thick-walled pot like a cast iron pot or a Dutch oven is your best choice for even heating and avoiding any chance of burning the beans.
You’ll notice that the browned sausage leaves a nice amount of fat in the pot that’s perfect for the next step – cooking the trinity.
Along with the trinity, add chopped garlic and ¼ stick of butter, and cook until the veggies are soft and translucent – about 5-10 minutes. As you can imagine, now is when the flavors are starting to meld, and the aroma is amazing.
Add the soaked, drained beans to the pot, along with a bay leaf and 5-10 cups of fresh water. While that might sound like a big variance, it allows for whether or not the beans were soaked. If they’ve been soaked, they’ll need less water at this stage; if they haven’t, they’ll need more. Again, it’s not an exact science, so don’t fret – just be sure to use enough water to cover the beans by an inch or so.
At this point, the boiling and simmering starts the softening of the beans. Some call for bringing the pot to a rolling boil for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes and then reducing to a simmer for a couple of hours. Others advise covering the simmering pot with a tight-fitting lid for an hour or so, and then removing and continuing to simmer. The point here is for the beans to absorb the water, and for the excess liquid to slowly evaporate, or cook off. Basically, how soft you like your beans and/or how soup-y you prefer the bean liquid will dictate how long you simmer – with the pot covered or uncovered. Either way, remember that the key to creamy red beans is longer simmering as well as the continued act of mashing beans against the side of the pot. Note that mashing will also give you a good indication of the softness of the beans. If they’re soft, they’ll be easy to mash; if they’re not, they’ll be more difficult to mash and will need more time to simmer.
Finally, when the beans are soft and the amount of liquid in the pot is to your liking, it’s time to add salt, pepper, hot sauce, and Cajun seasoning to taste. It’s important to add these spices at the end because salt can keep beans from softening if added too early. And the sausage affects the flavor and saltiness of the beans as they cook. Be sure to taste and season, and then taste and season some more! It’s always better to add a little bit of seasoning at a time, stir and then taste – so as not to inadvertently over-season the pot in one fell swoop.
Congratulations – you should now have a pot of delicious, creamy red beans. All that’s left to do is cook up some hot, fluffy rice, add to individual bowls, and ladle the beans over the rice. Garnish with a little chopped green onion, and you’ve got the perfect New Orleans meal to share with those you love. Don’t forget to put out an assortment of hot sauces, and let everyone adjust the spiciness to their own taste. Bon appétit!
Camellia’s Famous New Orleans-Style Red Beans Recipe
1 (1-pound) bag Camellia Brand Red Kidney Beans
1 pound smoked sausage
8-10 cups water
1/4 stick of butter
2 cups chopped seasoning blend (onions, celery, green bell peppers, parsley flakes)
1 toe garlic, chopped
1 bay leaf
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Cajun seasoning to taste
- Rinse and sort beans. (Optional: Soak beans using your preferred method.)
- In large heavy pot, cook sliced sausage for 5 minutes.
- Add chopped vegetables and garlic to cooking sausage, along with 1/4 stick butter, and continue to cook until onions turn soft or clear.
- Add beans, water, and bay leaf.
- Bring to rolling boil for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
- Reduce heat, simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally, until beans are desired tenderness.
- Add salt, pepper, Cajun seasoning to taste.