This week I wanted to make a hearty dinner that the whole family could eat but would at least lean towards the more healthy side of the equation. We had just returned from a long weekend road trip and the combination of fried baseball stadium food and road food was literally weighing on me.
When I feel the need for healthy I always think beans. I peeked into the pantry and found, in the back, a bag of red beans. This was sign. I could make a good pot of red beans and rice, a dish I make about twice a year and that I really love.
Sausage is the Seasoning in Red Beans and Rice
For me the most important thing in a good red beans and rice dish is the sausage. It basically acts as a seasoning for the dish. Just as you would bloom some of the seasonings you use by toasting them in a pan, I like to “bloom” the sausage.
I will take half of the sausage and make big chunky rounds or half-rounds. I dice the remaining sausage. Both preparations then go into a medium hot pan with some olive oil and get browned for about 5 minutes. This leaves some fond on the bottom of the pan along with a nicely seasoned olive oil that can then be used to saute the cajun trinity of diced bell peppers, onions and celery.
I always choose a New Orleans-style andouille sausage for this dish, but feel free to experiment if you don’t like the bold flavors in andouille. (I like the bold flavor!) You could use a regular smoked sausage or polska kielbasa, or go more adventurous with a chorizo or even a bratwurst. If you go this route let me know in the comments!
Do the Beans Matter?
Many will swear that the only red beans that are really authentic are the Camellia brand red beans. These are a little larger than those you may find in your local store. The Camellia bean brand has a size that is in between the smaller, store-bought red beans and a kidney bean. I admit I had a bag of Camilla red beans in my pantry but I want to save them to make red beans for my Mom, who brought them back from New Orleans on a recent trip. I will update this post with how they compare once I make them. Regardless, the store-bought red beans, which are labelled “red beans” worked just fine for me.
Add This Seasoning for a More Authentic Red Beans and Rice
Years ago a New Orleans cook open up a small sandwich shop in Vancouver, WA, called the Cajun Deli. The chef-owner, Godfrey, made a really mean gumbo and red beans – ones that resembled most the dished I ate as a child in New Orleans. I asked him what made them taste so authentic and he replied, “I add some file at the end.” File (pronounced fee-lay) is ground sassafras leaves. It has a mild and earthy flavor that really does bloom in a hot broth. It also can thicken your red bean gravy, which is a bonus. Add it like you would some fresh parsley, stirring it in the pot just before you serve the red beans.
Thickening Your Red Beans
Another thing I really like in red beans and rice a good gravy. Places like Popeyes Chicken have red beans on their menu but there’s is missing the nice, rich, flavorful gravy I prefer. The gravy picks up all the spices from the sausage and blends it with the red bean flavor. I start creating this gravy by smashing up a few beans against the side of the pot once they are done and stirring to combine. If you add file, that also can thicken it. But if you really want to go for it, then there’s one thing left to do …
Try This Optional Step If you Really Want to Pump up the Flavor
In this version I left out this step because I did not want to add the extra fat. While the beans turned out great, I found I was really missing the key thing that takes red beans to the next level: roux.
If you create a simple caramel-colored or even chocolate-colored roux and add it to your beans just before serving you are going to add a lot of depth and richness to the dish. I don’t really know how authentic this roux step is, but I have found if you want people to fawn all over your pot of red beans, then the roux is your only choice. I’d make mine with 2-3 tbsp of melted butter and then an equal amount of flour. Add some bean liquid to your roux once it’s done then add it all back into the pot and stir! It can take a few minutes to get a dark roux but you won’t be disappointed.
Don’t Forget the Rice
I must admit, sometimes I skip the rice because I think the beans are too good by themselves. However, your guests will hiss at you for leaving it out. I like to use Jasmine rice for my red beans and rice, but I really don’t think there’s a wrong answer here. For me, it’s just rice and the beans are where it’s at!
As always, I hope you enjoyed this recipe. My kids really like it. If you tried this please let me know in the comments below.
Red Beans & Rice - My No-Shortcut Recipe
- 1 pkg Red Beans Soaked at least 6 hours or overnight, then rinsed and dried
- 1 lb Andouille sausage (half diced, half in rounds) Try other types of sausage, too, if you wish
- 2 32oz pkg Chicken Broth I use low sodium and add salt at the end
- 1 med Onion, diced Yellow, sweet, white, whatever
- 2 stalks Celery, diced
- 2 med Bell Peppers, diced
- 2 med Jalapeno peppers, diced Take out the pith and seeds if you want less heat. Or leave these out.
- 2 cloves Garlic (whole or finely diced)
- 2 whole Bay leaves
- 1 tsp Cayenne pepper
- 4 qts Chicken Broth
- 1 tbsp Olive oil
- 1 tbsp File powder (ground sassafras leaves)
- 1 med Ham hock Optional
- 1 bunch Parsley, chopped Italian flat leaf or regular
- 2 cups Cooked rice
- Heat olive oil in large stock pot over medium high heat until just smoking.
- Turn down to medium and add all the sausage, both diced and rounds and brown about 5 minutes. Remove from pot, but leave any brown small brown bits.
- Add ham hock (if you have one), all vegetables, garlic and bay leaves to pot and cook 5 minutes, stirring often so onions do not burn.
- Rice and drain beans and add to pot.
- Return cooked sausage to the pot and add enough broth to cover the beans by about ½ inch.
- Bring to boil then cover and bring heat down to a simmer, cover, and cook until beans are soft (about 2-4 hours). Stir occasionally and make sure beans are not sticking to the bottom of the pot. If beans soak up broth, add more broth to barely cover them.
- Once beans are soft use a fork to smash about a dozen beans against the side of the pot and then stir. This will thicken the mixture. You can do this with more beans until you get a desired thickness. Instead of smashing beans, you can choose to make a roux (see optional steps below) and add it to the pot to thicken the beans. Regardless, I like to go with a near gravylike thickness.
- Add the file powder to mixture and stir, as this also will thicken it a little.
- Taste and season with cayenne pepper, black pepper, and salt to taste. Remove bay leaves.
- Once complete, give it another good stir. In a bowl, add a cup of beans then a half-cup scoop of cooked rice on top. Garnish with parsley if you wish and serve with some bread. Yum!
- Create a roux by adding 2-3 tbsp of butter to a small saucepan on medium heat until it stops foaming. Add 2-3 tbsp of flour and whisk continuously until the flour cooks to a milk chocolate color (or darker if you dare). If it burns, toss it and start over.
- When the roux reaches a color you like, add about a half cup of liquid from the beans above and whisk until smooth.
- Pour the roux mixture into the pot. Thank me later!