This week I fell into a discussion about Cajun food. During my life, I spent years in Louisiana. It’s one of my favorite places to live. The food is terrific and the people are wonderful. Their culture and heritage are unique.
I realize every state is different. I do. It’s just that the Louisiana culture is recognizable by most Americans almost instantly. New Orleans is New Orleans. What can I say?
So let’s get down to one of the easiest Cajun dishes – Red Beans and Rice.
Before we go too far let me state, with no bullshit attached, I am neither chef, nor Cajun, so I have no claim to mixing the ingredients in the old, secret ways. What I will say is: I have spent my time in restaurants across Louisiana. I’ve cooked and managed while keeping my ears open, inevitably standing at the side of Cajuns who have shared some of their cooking skills with me.
The first thing for this recipe is: you will have to decide whether or not you want to go from scratch or take some shortcuts. My family is huge and I have limited time, so I normally go with the quickest and easiest. But I will give both methods so you can have an informed choice. The two methods have an end product that is a virtual tie in taste. I suppose a true connoisseur can discern the difference, but they will also tell you, “That is not true Cajun Red Beans and Rice. You damn fool!”
Let’s start with the ingredients. I cut my recipe down because I have ten kids that are terrified they will starve to death, and they are ravenous the instant they put their plate in the sink after a feast. Because of that, they get damn full at each setting. The list below is for an ending product that will feed four people. If you need more or less then go for it.
Red Beans – 1 lb (scratch), OR, 2 ea 14.5 oz cans of undrained red beans (quick).
Brown Rice – ½ to 1 one cup. (Rule of thumb it takes twice as much water as rice. Place the rice in the water and bring to boil. Drop in two tablespoons of butter, cover, and simmer at least twenty minutes or until soft and fluffy.)
Unsalted butter – 4 tbs
Sweet onion – 1 ea medium sized
Green pepper – 1 ea
Garlic Cloves – 5 ea
Bay leaves – 1 or 2 ea
Andouille sausage – 1 ½ lbs (A true Cajun receipt will have Andouille sausage. If you cannot find this, or don’t like this kind of sausage then use Kielbasa sausage or a similar product like Smoked sausage.)
Bacon grease. (This is not essential, but it does add flavor.)
Creole seasoning to taste (There are several on the market and they all range in relative heat.)
Your favorite bar-be-que rub.
Hot sauce. Your choice here.
If you want to go traditional, you can rinse and soak your beans overnight. The soaking is not altogether needed, but if you don’t your cook time will be longer. As it is, the dry beans need to boil and simmer for two or three hours, stirring every fifteen minutes or so, keeping a watchful eye on them so they don’t scorch or burn. You may have to add water to them to keep them as you go. It won’t harm the taste. You’ll know they are done when the beans are soft, and by the dark, almost gravy-like liquid throughout.
Now the fun begins!
1) Julienne both the onion and green pepper, putting them in a four-quart pot. Then chop the garlic cloves and add them to the pot. Use two tablespoons of butter and sauté the vegetables until aromatic.
2) Pour the beans into the pot. Be sure to put the bean liquid in the pan too. Bring everything to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. From here to the finished meal you need to stir the pot from the bottom up every ten to fifteen minutes. Add the bay leaves. Most people want to simply drop them onto the top of the beans like in a soup. I usually let them sit on the top for about five minutes and then gently stir them in. This will give it a more robust flavor.
3) Shake in your Creole seasoning. Put in about half of what you think you need for the finished dish.
4) Start the rice.
5) Bias cut the sausage. In a hot skillet, warm the bacon grease. The sausage should sizzle when you add it to the frying pan. Sprinkle the sausage with the bar-be-que rub. (The rub can be skipped if need be, but I find that added zing helps the entire dish.) Cook the sausage past the searing stage. The finished product should have a burned appearance. This is not the same as blackening. That is a whole different procedure. (If you want to drop the sausage into a deep fat fryer go ahead, just don’t bring it out until it is black and chewy.) This is my favorite step. The Cajun who taught me this was very explicit. Most people do not want to burn anything, but the sausage should appear burnt, but not to the, “Oh My God it’s a cinder and crunchy!” stage. It should be at the, “Well damn, that looks like burned toast,” stage. The inside should still be juicy. When it is dark like a burned hot dog from an outdoor party, dump the sausage, bacon grease and all, into the beans and stir. Keep at it until all the sausage is cooked.
Now let everything simmer. This is when you add the rest of the Creole seasoning. About the time the smokey haze leaves the kitchen and you can turn the smoke detectors back on, you need to add the rice. That is if you want to mix the rice with the beans. That is the way I do it. I have also had it served to me as a bed of rice topped with the red beans. Your choice.
Now comes the taste test. This is where you can add your hot sauce, especially if you like things hot enough to immolate yourself from the inside out. It is also the part when someone says, “That ain’t the … you damn fool!”
Simmer your beans for another ten minutes and it is time to eat. Let me know if you like it.
By the way, have you checked out http://olivesplace.com/ If not, you should? Plenty of recipes there.