Monday Means Red Beans & Rice

Mick makes 'em Cajun style, we guarantee

With Mardis Gras fast approaching, it's only natural that for the day before, you cook up a big pot of red beans and rice. Cajun-Creole red beans and rice are the classic dish eaten on Mondays all over Louisiana, because traditionally Monday was wash day.

While all the cleaning chores were being done, a big pot of red beans and rice could be put on the stove in the morning and simmer slowly all day without requiring much attention; there was often some leftover pork from the weekend that could be thrown in to fatten-up the pot. Washing clothes used to be a much more engaging task back in the day.

Mick's Red Beans & Rice (Photo by Mick Vann)

Bucking the growing “meatless Monday” trend, there is nothing meatless about red beans and rice; the stew pot usually holds a conflagration of pig parts. Red beans and rice should be rich, meaty, and spicy. The bean used typically is a red kidney bean, which comes in both large and smaller varieties. I prefer the smaller bean, the one that’s about the size of a pinto bean, because it gives you a better ratio of stew ingredients to bean and they tend to cook-up creamier; the larger kidney bean’s texture is grainier. The preferred Louisiana brand of red bean for the pot is Camelia; grab a bag if you see them anywhere. Some folks prefer pink beans (found all over the Caribbean and Latin America, and known in Spanish as habichuelas rosados, and some use pinto beans if that’s all they have on hand.

The vegetable mélange is made up of the Cajun Holy Trinity: onion, celery, and bell pepper, with plenty of garlic kicked in. You can add some smoked ham hock to the conglomeration of pork utilized in the dish if you prefer; others rely on salt pork or leftover ham. Some folks use reserved bacon fat to sauté the vegetables, but I love the taste of bacon, so I add bacon to the dish. Andouille (an-DOO-ee) or chaurice (shaw-REES) are the preferred sausages for the beans, but any garlicky sausage can be used as a substitute. If you have a little dark roux lying around, you can always add just a touch to flavor and thicken the pot of stewed beans, but it’s not necessary.

Skillet with andouille sausage (Photo by Mick Vann)

Locals would prefer you use homegrown Louisiana long grain white rice like Konriko (in local parlance it’s called “pecan” rice), but jasmine or basmati rice works just as well. To cook rice Cajun-style, use twice the amount of water as rice (or half water and half chicken stock), and add a knob of butter, a teaspoon of white vinegar, and a little salt, bring to a boil in a heavy pan, and stir constantly while boiling for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, leave on the burner, and completely ignore the pot for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff it up with a fork, and you have great rice.

The allspice in this recipe was a red beans and rice hallmark of “Surly Earl” Barnes, fantastic home cook and irascible father of our buddy “Princess Di” Winslow and her brother (and our pal, and everyone’s favorite sax player) Jeffrey Barnes, of Brave Combo reknown. When the Barnes family lived down in Beaumont, and Janis Joplin and Edgar and Johnny Winter lived right down the block, Earl had a bunch of Cajun cooking and drinking buddies who insisted that he start adding a touch of allspice to the red bean pot. It only makes sense, when you consider the influence of the Caribbean on the food of New Orleans. Chris and Princess Di’s nursery, It’s About Thyme, carries fresh allspice plants when you need a source for your own fresh allspice leaves.

Fresh allspice plant (Photo by Mick Vann)

Princess Di is the one that made the red beans, following my recipe. She found the smaller variety of red beans at the local HEB grocery. CBoy had procured some fresh andouille at Johnny G’s Meat Market, to add to the andouille I had already gotten at Smokey Denmark. So when everyone got home from work, the work was pretty much done, except for slathering some nice crusty peasant bread with butter, roasted garlic, and chives, and popping it in the oven. I decided the Smokey Denmark sausage needed to be sliced and sautéed in a skillet, as a lagniappe topping to the bowls of red beans and rice, since it was smoked and Johnny G’s was fresh; it would make a nice contrast.

Bowls were portioned out, salad was brought out of the fridge and dressed, and some serious eating commenced. We ALL agreed that the red beans and rice were absolutely wonderful; I gotta say, they may have been the best bowl of red beans and rice I've ever eaten. What follows is a recipe for same so you can enjoy them, too. As the great Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong used to sign all his correspondence,

Red Beans & Rice-ly Yours

½ pound smoked bacon, diced

¼ cup chopped tasso (sub ham if unavailable)

1½ cups chopped yellow onions

¾ cup chopped celery

¾ cup chopped green bell peppers

1 pound andouille or chaurice sausage, 1-inch dice (sub Kielbasa or Spanish/Portuguese chorizo)

3 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 pound dried red beans, soaked overnight, drained, rinsed, and picked over

4 cups chicken stock

3 cups water

½ teaspoon cayenne (or more, to taste)

2 bay leaves

¼ to ½ teaspoon ground allspice (or 1 fresh allspice leaf)

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

2 teaspoons fresh thyme (sub 1 teaspoon dried thyme)

2 Tablespoons dark roux (optional)

½ teaspoon salt, to taste

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 cups cooked long grain white rice

½ cup chopped green onions, garnish

Shaker of cayenne, for garnish

Shaker of Creole seasoning, for garnish (optional)

In a large pot, sauté the bacon over medium-high heat until fat is rendered and the bacon is beginning to brown. Add the tasso and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the andouille sausage and sauté about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute.

Add the soaked red beans, chicken stock, and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the cayenne, bay, allspice, thyme, and parsley. Cook while stirring occasionally over medium-low heat, uncovered, until the beans are tender and the stew starts to thicken, about 2 hours. If it gets too thick, add ½ cup of water at a time. If adding the optional roux, make sure the roux is hot before whisking it slowly into the stew.

Using the back of a large spoon pressed against the interior of the pot (or using an electric hand-held blender), mash or puree about a fifth to a quarter of the beans in the pot. Cook while stirring occasionally for an additional 20 minutes, or until the beans are thick and creamy.

Serve over hot rice and garnish with minced green onions and a sprinkle of extra cayenne. Some folks use a hot sauce like Tabasco, Louisiana (Red Dot), Crystal, or Trappey’s; personally, I don’t like the vinegar flavor it adds to the stew, preferring the cleaner finishing heat of cayenne. Some folks like to garnish with a light sprinkle of Creole seasoning, for an extra flavor boost right at the end. Popular brands include Zatarain’s, Tony Chachere’s, Rex, and Konriko. To make your own Creole seasoning, combine:

2 Tbl hot paprika

2 Tbl garlic powder

1 Tbl freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbl onion powder

1 Tbl cayenne

1 Tbl dried thyme

1 tsp dried oregano

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