Red Beans and Rice
Red beans and rice on New Year’s Day were a mandatory and much anticipated part of my childhood. According to my mother, born and raised in New Orleans, this legendary beans and rice combo, consumed on the first day of January, ensured good luck throughout the coming year. I have never been able to verify this custom with any other New Orleans natives, so I wonder if she didn’t just prefer red beans to the black-eyed peas and rice (Hoppin’ John) commonly served throughout the South with the same fortuitous intent on New Year’s Day. Nonetheless, I have continued the tradition and my New Year’s celebration is never complete without Riz et Pois Rouges!
A Google search for this emblematic dish of New Orleans mentions not one word about good luck, but every article confirms the Queen City’s long-held tradition of serving red beans and rice every Monday, 52 weeks of the year. As the story goes, Monday was traditionally washday, and women did not have time to both cook supper and carry out the laborious duties of washing clothes by hand. So, Sunday’s ham bone was added to red beans, soaked overnight, and simmered all day with the ‘holy trinity’ of Louisiana cooking: onions, parsley, and celery. Served over rice, the meal was thrifty, convenient, and provided a complete protein.
Every family has its own favorite recipe for this dish, popularized in the early nineteenth century. According to an article in Inside Northside, The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book contains seven different recipes for red beans and rice! The ham bone of the past is often replaced with smoked (preferably Andouille) or pickled sausage. Added spices reflect the French, Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences evident in Creole cooking. Some people prefer to mash the beans to give them a creamy texture.
The recipe I am sharing with you is tweaked from one I found, written in pencil on a splattered index card by my aunt some 30 years ago, and attributed to Paul Prudhomme, an American celebrity chef who specialized in Creole cuisines.
1 pound dried red kidney beans 1 Tablespoon salt
½ pound salt pork or ham hock 2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
3-4 quarts water 1 teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup butter 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 large onion, chopped ½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 bunch green onions with tops, chopped 2 bay leaves
1 cup celery, chopped 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup chopped green pepper 3-4 generous dashes of Tabasco
2 large cloves garlic, crushed 1 cup parsley, chopped
Sort and wash the beans. Put them in a large pot, covered with 2 inches of water, and soak them overnight. Drain and add 3-4 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 1½ hours, stirring occasionally. Melt butter in a large skillet and sauté the vegetables until tender. Add vegetables and seasonings to the beans and cook uncovered on a slow simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary. Remove the bay leaves and stir in chopped parsley. Serve over boiled rice.