It used to be an old Louisiana tradition to cook a batch of red beans every Monday, which in many households also happened to be laundry day. Sunday's leftover hambone was simmered in a pot of beans while the clean clothes hung out to dry. And while designated "washdays" may now be a thing of the past, those legendary red beans live on.
The sum of red beans and rice is truly greater than its parts, and no two batches are ever the same. There are some general guidelines for the uninitiated, but in general, most of the recipes start out the same. The Southern trinity (onions, celery, and bell pepper) is sautéed with your pork of choice, be it ham hocks, sausage, pickled pork, or bacon. Beans and water are added, then cooked low-and-slow, which can take between one hour to three depending on everything from the age of the beans to the position of the sun. (Or so they say.)
When it comes to the beans, freshest is best, so buy from a store with high turnover, or order them from a trusted online source. Many Louisiana natives prefer Camilla brand beans and Rancho Gordo offer a high quality selection as well. Lastly, red beans and rice is a surprisingly mild dish in comparison to other creole and cajun dishes so be sure to serve plenty of hot sauce on the side.
This recipe is a true Southern staple, and proof that it doesn't take a lot to feed the soul. The beans are so good in fact, that you may start signing your letters just like the famed musician Louis Armstrong, "Red Beans and Ricely Yours, Louis Armstrong."
Red Beans & Rice
1 pound dried red beans (small red or kidney)
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound smoked sausage, sliced and quartered
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large smoked ham hock
2 - 3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cajun seasoning, such as Tony Chachere's
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cooked white rice, for serving
Pick through the beans, discarding any debris and beans that are shriveled or broken, and rinse in cold water. In a large bowl, cover the beans with 3 inches of water and set aside at room temperature for 6 - 8 hours. Drain and rinse.
In a large Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until it starts to brown, about 5 - 7 minutes. Remove the sausage and set aside. Lower heat to medium. Add the onions, peppers, and celery and cook until softened, about 5 - 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.
Pour 6 cups of water into the Dutch oven with the vegetables. Add the beans, ham hock, bay leaves, cajun seasoning, and Tabasco. Bring to a gentle boil, skimming off any foam as that collects on the surface. Reduce the heat to low/medium-low and cook at a gentle simmer, uncovered, for one hour. (Stir occasionally to ensure no beans are stuck to the bottom.)
Return the sausage to the Dutch oven. Continue cooking until beans are soft and creamy (or desired texture is reached), another 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hours. (If a thick, gravy-like texture is desired, use a metal spoon to mash some beans against the side of the pot.)
Season generously with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with cooked white rice, hot sauce, and toasted french bread.
Related: How to Cook Beans on the Stovetop
(Images: Nealey Dozier)