Anatomy of a Classic: Red Beans & Rice
Comfort food for the Creole soul
A Monday tradition in New Orleans, red beans and rice has humble roots: a pot of beans seasoned with Sunday’s ham bone, left to simmer while the household laundry got done. Like the best peasant cooking, it extracts the most from its simple ingredients, steeping the flavor from the ham bone and firing up the spices to create a rich stew that reveals the city’s distinctive European and Afro-Caribbean cultural ancestry.
Chef Lee Richardson knows all sides of his hometown’s cooking style. He worked his way through New Orleans’ finest kitchens before relocating to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he now serves as executive chef at Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel. But while you can take the chef out of New Orleans, you can’t take New Orleans out of the chef. “Even though I grew up in New Orleans when there was a changing of the guard—when cooking was shifting from inside the home to out—my grandmother was still in the kitchen to pass the torch, and I continue to cherish the experience of making those classic dishes today,” he says.
Because they cook up creamier, it takes Louisiana red beans to make this dish properly (Richardson recommends Camellia brand beans, a standard grocery item in much of the South). It also takes the Creole Trinity (onions, celery, and green pepper). When a bowl of red beans and rice is served with a good piece of grilled andouille, some sliced scallions, and a toasted piece of Leidenheimer’s New Orleans French bread, it is a fortification for mind, body, and soul. And once you put that pot on the stove, all it requires is occasional deep stirring to release the concentrated flavors from the “fond”—the browned bits of food stuck to the bottom. Just don’t use a metal spoon, which can give off tiny metal particles when scraped against the pot. As Richardson likes to say, “If you ain’t cooking with a wooden spoon, you ain’t cooking.”
Chef Lee Richardson's Red Beans & Rice
8 cups water
8 cups chicken stock
1 lb. Camellia red kidney beans
Leftover ham bone or smoked ham hock (about 1 lb.)
1/2 lb. good-quality smoked ham, diced small
1 medium yellow onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 celery ribs, diced, cleaned, and trimmed (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 average-size green pepper, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
6 cloves garlic
Bay leaf (one fresh or two dry)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp. Creole Spice Mix (available in most supermarkets)
2 tbsp. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Tabasco
1 tbsp. coarse salt
A dozen turns black pepper
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced and lightly sautéed
Andouille sausage, split and grilled
Leidenheimer’s New Orleans French bread (or any light, airy French bread), sliced and toasted
Soak half of the beans overnight in water in the refrigerator (and keep other half dry). Drain before using.
In a heavy-bottom stockpot over high heat, bring the water and stock to a boil with the beans and the ham bone or hock. Once the liquid comes to a boil, it will give off a little foamy residue. Skim this residue and discard. Add the diced smoked ham, vegetables, jalapeño, garlic, and bay leaf, and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the beans begin to thicken the liquid, stirring very occasionally with a wooden spoon, about two hours.
Add the parsley, Creole Spice Mix, Worcestershire, and Tabasco. Continue to simmer until the beans are practically indistinguishable from the liquid, about another 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
For the rice
1 tbsp. peanut oil
2 cups long-grain white rice (Della white basmati or Mahatma)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. coarse salt
2 1/2 cups water
In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until you can see it shimmer. Add the rice, bay leaf, and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon to prevent the rice from frying or blistering. It will begin to take on an opaque appearance. Add the water, turn up the heat, and bring to a boil while stirring to prevent sticking. Once the water has come to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low, allowing the rice to steam 20 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow to stand 5 minutes. Remove the lid, and turn the rice out into a bowl. Fluff with your spoon or a fork.
Add the salt and black pepper to the beans, and ladle liberally over the rice. Finish with a piece of grilled andouille and toasted French bread, and garnish with sautéed scallions. (Serve with a shaker of red wine vinegar, and Tabasco should always be within arm’s reach.)