We probably would have been too lame to cook up a Mardi Gras meal ourselves, but we lucked out when our endlessly hospitable friends the Donnellys- Brice and Jenny, hosts-with-the-mosts- invited us over for a Cajun/Creole-themed Mardi Gras dinner. Brice is chef extraordinaire and cocktail expert and Jenny reigns as baker supreme, so we knew the dinner would be delicious, well planned, and FUN. The Donnellys create the cherished and dying atmosphere of warm conversation in their home. When we come over for dinner, there is no TV blaring to greet us, but laughter in the kitchen and an old record spinning next an antique glass bookcase in the living room. My kind of welcome.
Brice writes an incredibly informative (and hilariously titled) blog: Amuse Douche, a cocktail, cooking, eating, and etc. page. He’s incredibly informed on all subjects- here’s a photo depicting some of the reasons he and his wife are folks to trust on wine and cocktails (forgive my iphone camera for being an iphone camera):
Brice and Jenny were making crab cakes on creamed corn and king cake, so I offered to bring the red beans as a side. I hope you enjoy making and eating this dish as much as we did!
NEW ORLEANS-STYLE RED BEANS AND RICE
- 2-3 tbsp canola oil
- 1 cup diced onion
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 1 tsp salt, possibly more to taste
- 1/2 tsp cayenne
- 1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1 tsp thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 12 oz smoked sausage, cut into discs and then half-discs
- 2 smoked ham hocks (about a pound)
- 1 pound dried red beans, rinsed, sorted, and soaked overnight
- 3 tbsp chopped garlic
- 10 cups water, may need more
- cooked white rice
Important: sort through your red beans for any bits to discard, rinse, and soak overnight!! If you don’t have time to do so, soak for at least four hours and increase cooking time by an hour and a half.
Dice your onion, celery, and bell pepper. Trivia question for you: what is that trio called in Creole cooking? The holy trinity! Dice your holy trinity, genuflect, heat vegetable oil over medium heat and add veggies. Cook for 5 minutes, until soft and opaque.
After the trinity has cooked for those 5, add bay leaves, ham hocks, sausage, and spices (but not the garlic). A note on ham hocks: they look creepy and sound hard to find, but you can get them at any grocery store with a meat department. Look for smoked instead of fresh- the object here is to add deep flavor, and fresh hocks wouldn’t do that. Cook this mixture 5 minutes more. It will look like this:
At this point, add water, beans, and garlic. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a medium-low simmer. The original recipe said to cook at this step on medium, but that was too hot. Cooking slightly longer, at a lower temperature will do the dish big favors here. Cook at this step for 2 hours, or 2 hours 45 minutes if you did a four-hour bean soak. Watch this pot and stir it if needed! With that long of a cooking time, you’ll be tempted to set it and forget it, but these beans will burn.
After your slow-cooking time has passed and your house smells like NOLA, mash half of the beans against the side of your pot with a slotted spoon. Cook for an additional hour to hour and a half; you may need to add more water here. Emeril’s version advised that the beans should be “soupy, but not watery,” which is a good benchmark. Cook your white rice during the last 30 minutes of your beans’ cooking time. I used a Dominican-style recipe that never disappoints. I am a white rice FIEND, and this method will always yield tender and delicious results.
When time is up, remove the ham hocks and bay leaves. The ham hocks will look like something from a horror movie:
But your smooth and velvety red beans and rice will look like this!!
At Brice and Jenny’s, Dave and I watched as they whipped up huge, fresh crab cakes, improvised a tasty creamed corn, and baked not one, but TWO versions of king cake. Two more friends joined us, wine was poured, and a great evening was had by all. It wasn’t as debaucherous as it would have been five years ago (shoot, three years ago), but was loose and happy nonetheless. Here’s Brice douchily amusing the crowd as he prepped the main course, and the main course floating by:
Again, check his blog for recipes and tips. He posted an entry about the same dinner, so read here for another perspective. Red beans a rice are a classic and simple dish every cook should have up the sleeve- let me know how you like my spin, or what spins you make! Bon apetit!