Tuesday, February 5, 2008

"Louisiana Real & Rustic" by Emeril Lagasse and Marcelle Bienvenu - Red Beans and Rice

Date I made this recipe: February 5, 2008 (Mardi Gras’ Fat Tuesday)

Louisiana Real & Rustic by Emeril Lagasse and Marcelle Bienvenu
Published by: William Morrow and Company
ISBN: 0-688-12721-5
Recipe: Red Beans and Rice – p. 226-227

“Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez, “ Mes Amis – Let the Good Times Roll, My Friends!

Today is Fat Tuesday for those cities, such as New Orleans, celebrating Mardi Gras (which means…Fat Tuesday!). Mardi Gras kicks off Lent and Fat Tuesday is a day of feasting and revelry before serious fasting (typically for members of the Catholic Church) begins. I’m all about feasting and am all about New Orleans, a city I visited a couple of times prior to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. It is a testament to the resiliency of New Orleans and a love of celebration amidst devastation that the residents continued to have their Mardi Gras celebration before the city could even grasp what exactly happened. Talk about being down but not out.

Although not a native of New Orleans, Emeril Lagasse has come to embody New Orleans cooking. I first saw him years ago on PBS with Julia Child. He did a crawfish boil that made my mouth water. Years passed and then Bam! There he was on the Food Network, cooking his way through several different TV shows and several different cuisines. For a while, I suffered from Emeril overkill (much the same as the current Food Network Queen, Rachel Ray), but eventually I grew to really like the guy, so much so that I spent over 3 hours in line several years ago waiting to meet him and have him sign my cookbooks. Emeril looked exhausted having likely come from who know what city, but he stayed until the last person came through. I have a lot of respect for a guy like that.

Although I have several New Orleans cookbooks, most of them featured fish and seafood (plus the elusive crawfish—like I’m gonna find that in this state in the winter!) and while I love that food, I opted for something simpler and something that is really the essence of Louisiana and New Orleans cooking – Red Beans and Rice. It is such a staple in that state that famed trumpet player, Louis Armstrong, used to sign his letters “Red Beans and Ricely Yours.”

And so although this dish was traditionally a Monday dish (Monday was wash day and “when the laundry was done, so were the beans), I couldn’t resist making this New Orleans treat for Fat Tuesday.

So put on some Louis Armstrong, or even Louis Prima (Jump Jive an’ Wail, Oh Marie and I’m Just a Gigolo) who is also from New Orleans, or even (more contemporary) Harry Connick, Jr. and Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

Red Beans and Rice – 8 servings
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onions
½ cup chopped celery
1 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 bay leaves
1 pound boiled ham, cut into 1/2 –inch cubes
6 ounces smoked sausage, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices (1 cup) (Note: I used up some leftover Kielbasa from the Beet Borscht recipe a few weeks ago)
1 pound dried beans, rinsed and sorted over, soaked overnight and drained
3 tablespoons chopped garlic (or “chawped gawlik” as Emeril would say)
8 to 10 cups water
Steamed rice

Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onions, bell peppers, bell peppers, celery, salt, cayenne, black pepper and thyme for about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves, ham, and sausage and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes. Add the beans, garlic, and enough water to cover the contents in the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 2 hours. Add more water if the mixture becomes dry and thick.

Use a wooden spoon to mash about half of the mixture against the side of the pot. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 ½ hours, or until the mixture is creamy and the beans are soft. Add more water if it becomes too thick. The mixture should be soupy, but not watery.

Remove the bay leaves and serve over steamed rice.

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