Richard is my former next-door neighbor back in Tampa, and we had many dinners and parties where we cooked together. Last Saturday he made a pot of his chili that filled us up and stuck to our ribs. I’ll get his recipe to you as quickly as possible. Sunday’s big game meal consisted of a pot roast, but I’ve already talked about that one. We sampled a few local eateries during their visit, and prepared a weekend’s worth of snacks and junk food that made me find the larger pants in the back of my closet.
Friday night, I cooked a pot of red beans and rice for Richard, Scott and Hawkins. I like this dish because it showcases what locally available ingredients can do. Nothing is too complicated in the preparation, and as hearty as it is, remains warm and nourishing when three guys from Florida are shocked by snow and ice.
Red beans and rice is a traditional meal from New Orleans. Many families serve the meal on Mondays preparing it with the ham left over from a Sunday meal. Louis Armstrong often signed autographs with the phrase “Red beans and ricely yours.”
As I spent most of the day in Nashville collecting my friends, I did not have the time or the foresight to soak the beans the night before. Wash one pound of beans well before cooking begins. All dry beans should ideally be soaked overnight previous to cooking. This leaves them tender and ready to cook. The alternative method, which never works quite as well, is to boil the beans for ten minutes and remove from the heat to soak in a covered pot for an hour.
Drain the water from the soaked beans, whether boiled or soaked overnight. Clean the pot thoroughly and keep the beans in a bowl. With a tablespoon of olive oil, I started to sauté a full tablespoon of garlic. Remember the “Holy Trinity” seasoning vegetables in the gumbo recipe? We use one large yellow onion, one green pepper, and two ribs of celery. Unlike the gumbo, I chopped the vegetables finely, so they would break down as the beans cooked to flavor the entire pot. Sautee the trinity vegetables until the onions begin to turn clear. I added a little bit of salt and pepper a quarter teaspoon of Cajun spice and the same amount of cayenne pepper.
Though many restaurants serve smoked sausage separately from red beans and rice, I decided to combine the meat into the trinity vegetables. Heat the sausage as the vegetables cook. When the onions begin to soften, add the beans back to the pot and cover everything with a few inches of water over the food. Seasoning is best accomplished with the trinity vegetables and maybe a half-pound or more of leftover ham. Instead of ham, I bought some ham hocks and threw two of them into the pot with the beans. A pair of bay leafs add an herbal favor and are never lost in pretty much anything simmered in a pot. You can tell that bay leaves are old friends. Salt is needed in the pot, but I encourage people to taste before adding. The ham hocks have salt already, so be careful not to add too much. Truthfully, I think mine was a little under-salted this time. Richard agreed, but salt is easily added at the table. It is much easier to add than it is to take away.
Add about one-half teaspoon of Cajun seasoning as the beans cook, the same amount of black and cayenne pepper and salt to taste. If you like Worcestershire sauce, a couple of teaspoons would work well. A tablespoon of parsley adds good color and a little more flavor as well. If you like a little extra heat, add maybe four or five dashes of your favorite hot sauce, though remember that Cajun and Creole foods are traditionally not served to be painful. Those enjoying fiery flavor can always add as much or as little hot sauce at the table as they desire.
Watch the beans closely. When they begin to split their skins from the boiling use a stiff spoon to mash a quarter of the beans in the pot. Mashing the beans will give the dish a creamy texture once allowed to thicken. Stir frequently.
The beans themselves should still have a bit of texture-not crunchy but not mushy. Watch the pot closely as it simmers. When it is creamy from the mashed beans, but still distinct beans, the meal is ready. I suggest smashing only a quarter to half of the beans to reach this texture.
The rice itself need not be fancy. I used the usual brown rice, placing maybe as much as an ice cream scoop full into a bowl of beans. The dish works well alone, or can be served as a side for anything blackened, fried chicken or catfish or a good smoked sausage. Keep a bottle of hot sauce nearby for anyone who needs it.
Other than the salt, which was quickly remedied by a shaker, we enjoyed the beans immensely. Everyone ate at least two bowls of the hearty meal. Richard thought it could have used a little more garlic. I forgot that he is one of the few people that regularly out-garlics me. With an exciting game, plenty of good food, friends and even a few guests, a good time was had by all during Super Bowl. Good eating.