Red beans have long been a Monday-night staple in New Orleans, so beloved that the famous musician and native son Louis Armstrong would often sign autographs, “Red Beans and Ricely Yours.” Mondays were for washing, and the beans could simmer all day in stock enriched by a ham bone from Sunday’s supper. Though specific washing days are a thing of the past, red beans on Mondays are a tradition that’s still very much alive in the Crescent City.
To celebrate the mainstay dish and the culture that surrounds it, throughout the month of March, the Krewe of Red Beans organized its second annual Bean Madness, a March Madness-style bracket to determine who makes the city’s best red beans. The krewe held six rounds of pop-up tastings at farmer’s markets, bookstores, jazz clubs, and theaters, with nearly 3,600 locals judging fifty-seven competitors, including teams from the James Beard-nominated Coquette and Boucherie, which is helmed by Chopped winner Nathaniel Zimet. All proceeds from the events benefitted Anna’s Place and Make Music NOLA, two New Orleans-based children’s charities.
This weekend, during the final round of judging held at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, Ma Momma’s House of Cornbread, Chicken, and Waffles, a little-known New Orleans East restaurant, edged out Uptown’s Joey K’s to win the coveted Legume d’Or trophy.
“I’ve been making beans since I was twelve,” says Rene Guzman, chef and co-owner of the victorious Ma Momma’s. “It’s my mom’s recipe. I ate beans four times a week growing up because they’re cheap and easy.” With no traditional training, Guzman opened Ma Momma’s in 2013 with her sister, Nicole, and brother-in-law, Earl. They specialize in family recipes—chiefly, their mommas’. “Everybody has their best meals at their momma’s house,” Guzman says.
“What tips my beans over the top is that I’m cooking them with love,” she continues. “That, and all the bell peppers.” Although she prefers to keep her award-winning recipe a secret, Guzman is willing to share some tips for upping the ante on your own red beans and rice.
1: Use chicken broth when cooking.
2: Contrary to other chefs’ advice, Guzman seasons throughout the entire time the beans are cooking—not just at the beginning or end.
3: Guzman keeps her seasoning recipe tight under the toque, but she will say that she uses dried herbs instead of fresh, and a lot of parsley.
4: Sauté diced green bell peppers and onions before adding them to the bean pot. Don’t use celery. (Guzman doesn’t like its taste.)
5: Throw in some more bell peppers for good measure. “I put extra bell peppers in everything,” Guzman says.
Try Guzman’s recipe for yourself at Ma Momma’s House of Cornbread, Chicken, and Waffles, 5741 Crowder Boulevard, New Orleans.