Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday Means Red Beans and Rice

Louis Armstrong often signed off his correspondence with "Red beans and ricely yours."  If there is a quintessential working class New Orleanian dish, this is it, perhaps even moreso than Gumbo.  Traditionally, this was a dish that was prepared on Mondays.  As wash day was Monday, and back then wash day was substantially more arduous than it is now, the women of the house wanted a meal they could set up early in the day and "fix it and forget it," to borrow a modern colloquialism.  It could simmer all day, and when the work was done, dinner would be ready.

I can't say I religiously follow this tradition, but then again, I live in a modern house, and laundry day doesn't mean I go down to the Mississippi with a chunk of lye soap, and scrub my clothes and beat them on rocks or dip them into pots of boiling water.  Laundry day is about four of every seven days of the week around here. 

I did however have a ham I pulled out of the freezer last week, and after having my fill of hamsteaks for breakfast, I needed a vehicle for the leftover meat and the bone.  I stripped as much of the fat off as possible and sent it to the dog dish (cue dog voice here: "Oh master, you are my benefactor and lord of my world.  I humbly thank you for the nibblets of porky goodness in my bowl.  I will reward you with a lick on your ear, beloved friendbeast").  The bone went into the stockpot, and while it might have benefited from an overnight simmer, it was rendering up its flavor all afternoon.   I cubed up the remaining ham, and got to chopping my veg:  garlic, onions, celery and a judiciously small amount of fresh garlic.  I also bought some "andouille," or the closest thing I could find here in Charlotte, and cut it into two inch links.   You could substitute smoked ham hocks for the stock if you were so inclined, and back home "pickle meat" would take the place of the ham in this recipe.  If you know where I can find pickle meat here in Charlotte, please let me know in the comments.  Also, any quality smoked sausage can be substituted for andouille.

When the hambone had shed most of its meat and left me with a pale gold stock, I strained it, harvested the best porky nibblets, and discarded the bones.  Sorry, my dog does not get bones.  I've heard the whimpers the next day when they come out the other end.  I sauteed my veg in olive oil, added the ham chunks, andouille, two bay leaves and let those sweat.  After a bit I added the beans and topped everything off with my ham stock.  Two and a half hours later, the beans are soft enough to eat, and the flavors are integrated.  I didn't need to adjust the salt level, but a few turns of fresh black pepper brought the seasoning to where I needed it. 

Here's a tip: if you want your red beans to have a nice creamy texture, pull a good ladle of them out near the end and smash them into a paste in a sturdy coffee mug, and return to the pot.

Serve with steamed rice, and Crystal hot sauce. Tabasco for the old-schoolers.

I have no good wine pairing suggestion for this, so I recommend a sixer of Abita Amber.  It's made just a half hour north of NOLA, right across the lake to the north, and is about the best local NOLA beer you can get, even if it comes from Abita Springs.

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