Of course I’ve made red beans and rice approximately 132 times in my life. Any self-respecting Southerner would have by the time they reach their mid-30s. I learned to make it by going over to my grandma’s next-door neighbor as a teenager, eating some, and then reverse-engineering it. I’ve been making it pretty much the same way for the past 15 years and have never looked at a recipe. It occurred to me to wonder how actual Cajuns make this dish, and so I pulled my beat-to-death copy of Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen off the shelf. I’ve been cooking out of it since I was 9, and there are many fine reasons it’s still in print. You should get a copy. And if you do, you should also plan on adjusting the measurements for various peppers according to your tastes, because the recipes are spiced for Deep South palates.
1/2 pound dry red kidney beans
Water to cover the beans
About 10 cups water, in all (I used less)
3 pounds small ham hocks
1 1/4 cuts finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 cup finely chopped green bell peppers
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder (I used several fresh cloves)
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (you may want to dial this back, depending on your tastes)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Cover the beans with water 2 inches above the beans; soak overnight. Drain.
Place 8 cups of the water and remaining ingredients in a 5 1/2 quart saucepan or large Dutch oven; stir well. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove cover; reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Raise heat and boil until meat falls off the bones, about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the meat and bones from the pan; set meat aside and discard bones.
Add the drained beans and remaining 2 cups water to the pot. (You may not need to add this extra water; it depends on how much evaporation has place. Use your own best judgment.) Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until beans are tender and start breaking up, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally and scraping pan bottom fairly often. (If beans start to scorch, do not stir. Immediately remote from heat and change pots without scraping up any scorched beans into the mixture.) Add the ham and cook and stir 10 minutes more. Discard bay leaves and break up any large meat chunks. Cool and refrigerate until ready to use. Makes about 7 cups.
I also made bread pudding sometime later that week. My friend Kurtis tweeted about a recipe he was using and then I couldn’t get the idea out of my head but I didn’t go combing back through his tweets to find it. Instead, I ended up with this recipe, which was lovely but made a ton of super heavy pudding. I’d make it again, along with the sauce, but only if another 10 people were headed over to the house to help us eat it. Next time, I’ll try Kurtis’ version.