My mom used to make red beans and rice for us as kids. It was the only holdover from the time she and my dad spent living in New Orleans while he was in medical school. And we were obsessed. It’s probably still my favorite dish that she makes. Now, whenever the kids are coming home, she’ll throw a batch in the crockpot and we’ll feast when we arrive. That drive from San Francisco to Sacramento, whew, you can really work up an appetite.
I wasn’t planning to to make my mom’s red beans and rice this time around. I’d actually found a recipe in David Tanis’ beautiful book The Heart of the Artichoke for an Italian-ish black eyed pea stew and that was more or less what I was working towards. But one taste of those beans after they’d been simmering with a pork neck bone for a few hours and I knew a New Orleans infusion was in order.
It was a good call, it’s probably always a good call. Maybe beans just shouldn’t exist outside of red beans and rice … or cassoulet … or burritos … or baked beans … hummm. Anyway, if you want a taste of my childhood, here it is.
Calypso Beans and Rice, in the style of my mom’s red beans and rice
1 lb dried beans, I used Calypso beans because they were cute, but kidney beans are the traditional choice
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 slices of bacon, cut into lardon
1 smoked ham hock or smoked pork neck bones
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or more if you like it hot
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons hot sauce (we like Crystal, but Tabasco was my dad’s hot sauce of choice growing up)
White rice, andouille sausage (if you’d like, we didn’t have any), and more hot sauce for serving
Soak the beans in a large bowl of water for 8 hours or overnight.
In a large, heavy bottomed pan or dutch oven over medium-low heat, sauté the bacon pieces until they render their fat and begin to brown. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. If your bacon is fatty, you should have enough oil to sauté the onion in, but it it isn’t add a bit of olive oil or duck fat (when you live in this house you have a jar of duck fat in the fridge so why not make good use of it?) to the pan.
Add the onion to the pan. Sauté for 5 – 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Likely they’ll pick up some of the more browned bacony bits left behind in the pot. That’s good news. Add the garlic and sauté another minute more.
Add the beans, bay leaf and 6 cups of water. Be sure to throw in your ham hock at this point also. We had some delicious smoked pork neck bones from a pig my mom bought over the summer from a customer of hers, and so I threw those in instead. You could skip the smokey meat bit, but I wouldn’t recommend it—it adds a tremendous depth of flavor to what’s an otherwise pretty bland food.
Turn the heat to low and let your beans simmer away, until they are tender. Mine took about 2 – 2.5 hours. After your beans are sufficiently tender, add the worcestershire sauce, cayenne, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Add the hot sauce to taste.
About half of my beans were falling apart into a beany puree as I stirred. Depending on the texture of your beans, you might want to puree about a third of the mixture and add it back in if they don’t seem to be falling apart into mush on their own. It’s best to have some beans that are more whole and some that become more of a bean sauce.
If you’re using a ham hock, you’ll probably want to pull that out and pick off the meat and throw the meat back in. This might happen on it’s own, but discovering a little hammy nublet when you’re thinking it’s just beans, that’s good stuff.
Serve on a bed of rice with more hot sauce on the side. My mom will usually sauté up a few andouille sausages, slice them and top the beans and rice with them. You could do so too if you felt inclined. Bon appetit!
PS. I’ve never been to New Orleans so I can’t honestly say how authentic my mom’s red beans and rice are, but I can guarantee that they are delicious. Her recipe is probably some California-Louisiana fusion that real purists couldn’t possibly endorse, but for me it will always taste like home.