Thursday, July 26, 2007

Red Beans and Rice, Old Time Creole Style: A Story and a Recipe

This is Part One in a trilogy. Part Two is "Wash Day on the Bayou", posted July 30, 2007. Part Three is "PureCajunSunshine's Red Beans and Rice Recipe", posted August 4, 2007.

Red Beans and Rice is the old fashioned South Louisiana answer to the electric Crock Pot. Traditionally, this delicious slow cooked comfort food was usually prepared on wash day. Why wash day fell on Mondays is anybody's guess. I think it was because most folks were rested and charged-up from the slower pace of Sundays.

Wash day in the old days was hard, and it was an all day affair. Red Beans and Rice was the perfect solution for Monday's not-enough-hours-in-a-day problem. The beans could be left alone to simmer slowly for hours with very little attention from the cook.

Red Beans and Rice is a versatile dish. It is delicious either as a two hour cooked affair, or simmered for up to eight hours in a heavy black iron pot on the back of a wood burning stove. It adapts well to whatever is on hand, such as sausage, diced ham, smoked ham hock, pork chops, or salt pork. There are recipes that call for regional favorites such as pickle meat, tasso, or andouille. Singly or in any combination, these flavors work well with beans. Traditionally, a meaty hambone from Sunday's dinner is added to the pot. Mamere always gave the hambone a few good whacks to break it, so that the goodness from the marrow can seep out as it cooked.

Of course, the longer it cooks, the creamier the beans will be. The flavor from the cracked hambone lends a special taste and creaminess that can only be attributed to the marrow. An almost-as-good substitute for hambone marrow is a dollop of real butter stirred into the pot just before serving.

All day long, back in the old days...promises of fine eating wafted outside kitchen windows all over the neighborhood, to ride in the breeze, and tormented us all. By the time all the laundry was washed, supper was ready and welcomed with glad hearts and large appetites, whetted sharp with the smells of the day. In some of the older neighborhoods (on high ground) in New Orleans, it is still like that to this day. Good smells, good food, good times...

I think that second only to Sunday's dinner, Monday's supper is the most eagerly awaited meal of the week In New Orleans. No, wait! There's Friday's seafood. Or, what about Tuesday's Red Bean Gumbo, made with Monday's Red Beans and Rice, that's made with Sunday's hambone...and so on it goes. It just gets better and better.

We don't just have leftovers, we celebrate them.

I have a couple of favorite recipes to share, but first let me tell you the story of why Red Beans and Rice seems to taste so much better on wash day in South Louisiana...

(Recipes will follow shortly after the post titled, Wash Day on the Bayou)

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