Among the many things to love about Louisiana’s food is its lack of pretense. Despite the elegant restaurants in the French Quarter, some of my most memorable meals have been on the back roads of Cajun country at grocery stores, butcher shops and even gas stations. With Mardi Gras this month, it’s time to simmer up a big pot of my smoky, spicy red beans for a Big Easy fix.
Smoky Red Beans and Rice
1 pound dried red beans, rinsed and sorted
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon grease
4 ounces fatty pork (such as shoulder or boneless ribs), cut into ½-inch cubes
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
4 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
1/2 pound andouille (or other smoked sausage), split in half lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces 10 cups chicken stock or water
Cooked white rice
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, for garnish
Hot sauce, for garnish
1. Place the beans in a large pot, cover with 4 inches water and soak 8 hours or overnight. Drain and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the cubed pork and cook, stirring, until the fat begins to render, about 3 minutes. Add the onions, celery, green pepper and garlic, and stir to combine. Add the salt, pepper and cayenne, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add bay leaves, parsley, thyme and andouille, and cook, stirring, until the sausage has browned, about 4 minutes.
3. Add beans and stock or water, stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and starting to thicken, about 2 hours. (If the beans become too dry, add more water as needed.)
4. Remove from heat. Using the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher, mash about ¼ of the beans against the side of the pot, then stir in. Continue to cook until the beans are tender and creamy, an additional 15 minutes. Remove from heat and remove bay leaves, then taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
5. Serve the warm beans over cooked white rice and garnish with green onions and hot sauce, as desired.