Red beans and rice is a budget-friendly, easy, and filling dish. Although it’s emblematic of Louisiana Creole cuisine, the dish is now popular throughout the American South, and many different variations of the dish exist now. Traditionally, red beans and rice was made on Mondays- ham was often served as a Sunday dinner and Monday was washday, so busy cooks could leave a pot of beans to sit on the stove and simmer all day while they were busy scrubbing clothes. While Monday washdays are largely a thing of the past, red beans remain a staple in many New Orleans neighborhood restaurants and even schools continue to serve it as a Monday lunch or dinner special, usually with a side order of cornbread and either smoked sausage or a pork chop. It’s also a popular dish for large gatherings such as Super Bowl and Mardi Gras parties, as a big pot of red beans and rice can easily feed a crowd.
The recipe and introductory text below are excerpted from The Dooky Chase Cookbook by Leah Chase:
“In Madisonville, where I grew up, we would use smoked ham to add flavor to our red beans. In New Orleans, they would use pickled meat. Pickling of pork was done in the Creole community. Pickled ribs with potato salad were popular. The meat was pickled in a brine, more or less, along with seasonings. There is a market in New Orleans that still makes pickled meat, in just this way. They might also use some kind of vinegar. In this red beans recipe, I stick with the smoked meats, just like in the country.”
- 1 lb. red kidney beans
- 2 qt. water
- 1 large onion (chopped)
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 lb. smoked ham (cubed)
- 1 lb. smoked sausages (preferably andouille, in 1/2-inch slices)
- 1 cup water
- 1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 Tbsp. black pepper
- 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
- 1 tsp. whole thyme leaves
- 2 level Tbsp. salt (or to taste)*
- Prepare the beans: Pick through beans, removing all bad beans or any other particles. Wash beans well. Place beans in a 5-quart pot. Add the 2 quarts of water. Add onions; bring to a boil. Lower heat and let beans boil slowly for 1 hour. When beans are soft, stir well, mashing some against the side of the pot.
- Prepare the meat: Heat oil in frying pan; add ham and sausage. Sauté in oil for 5 minutes. Then add the sausage, ham, and oil to beans. Deglaze pan with the cup of water, then pour into beans. Add all other ingredients. Let simmer for 30 minutes. Beans should be nice and creamy. Serve over rice.
I find the the beans cook best–and fastest–if you soak them overnight. Although you can use any type of red kidney beans, light red kidney beans are recommended. However, if you can find them in your area or online, this recipe will be better if you use real Louisiana red beans (Camellia is probably the best brand). There’s some debate as to which brand of andouille is best, but the top three brands are usually Richard’s, Savoie’s, and Poche’s. Outside of Louisiana, you’ll probably have to make do with Johnsonville or Hillshire Farms andouille (which are serviceable enough, but are probably closer to kielbasa than andouille). More upscale grocers may carry “gourmet” or “foodie” brands like D’Artagnan, Aidell’s, Niman Ranch, or Al Fresco (read: probably not authentic, but maybe still a bit better than Johnsonville or Hillshire Farms). If you can’t find andouille, you can substitute kielbasa, but the taste won’t be quite the same. Although I’ve written the recipe as it appears in Leah Chase’s “The Dooky Chase Cookbook,” I’d recommend holding the two tablespoons of salt, and only adding as much as you need to adjust the seasoning at the end of the recipe, since there’s already plenty of salt in the andouille and ham (especially if you need to cut back on sodium).
If you like this recipe, and want to try out more of Leah Chase’s classic Louisianna cooking, try her recipe for The Best Sweet Potato Pie. It really is the best!
Red beans are a perfect low-maintenance but hearty choice. “They practically cook themselves,” Chase says. Just be sure to stir them occasionally to make sure they don’t burn. You can also prepare them in a slow-cooker. If you’d like to cut down on the cooking time, many cooks choose to soak their beans in water beforehand, Chase says. Clean and sort the beans as directed, then leave them in a bowl, just covered with water, overnight or several hours ahead. If you prefer a more pronounced garlic flavor, add the garlic more toward the end of the cooking. “It will have a more powerful taste that way,” Chase says.