Red Beans and Rice, Cajun Style

Cajun Red Beans and Rice, once a Sunday stable. Sunday was wash day, and chores day. It was easy to put on a pot of beans and throw in the ham bone from Saturday’s dinner. Red Beans and Rice is a meal, not a side dish and goes very well with a nice green salad.

You can use red kidney beans or red beans.  I prefer red beans. I also make a double batch and freeze a couple of quarts for a surprise meal down the road.

Here are 2 pounds of red beans that have soaked overnight. The soaking softens the beans as well as removing the sugars that cause flatulence.

The drawback to the traditional soaking is the loss of flavor.

If you choose to not presoak your beans, be prepared to add more liquid during the cook and to extend the cooking time.

Either way, sort through the beans to remove all floaters, and foreign stuff like twigs, sand etc.

The next step is to saute the onions, garlic and green onions.

One of the fastest ways to ruin the edge of your knife is to scrape the cutting board, here I use the back of the blade, maintaining the cutting edge.

The recipe I am following came from the Time-Life Foods of the World cookbooks dating back to the 1970’s. It should also be noted that this is a Cajun, not a Creole recipe.  Think of Cajun as country and Creole as city.

The recipe is located at the bottom

What prompted me to make this for dinner was a stop for a snack in Hubbard, Oregon, home of Voget Meats.  They make some of the best smoked sausages and smoked pork chops that have ever graced my table. In their showcase where these ham hocks and they they left with me, along with my beef stick.

about 20 minutes before the beans are finished, remove the hocks and let cool down, Strip off the meat and return the ham to the pot.

We served this with white rice and sprinkled a little green onion on top.

Earlier I mentioned that this was Cajun, not Creole. If it was prepared in a New Orleans restaurant then it would have been a fancier version, as there might be Andouilli Sausage, more peppers or additional hot, hot sauce.

Instead of the onions, the Holy Trinity would have been the base. Basil, sage, parsley would have added an additional layer of flavor. The list of changes could go on.

I feel if you want to really experience great Louisiana cooking you should start in the country and progress to the city.  I love it all, well maybe not Okra.

 

RED BEANS AND RICE
Serves 4-6

6 cups water
1 pound dried small red beans or 1 pound dried red kidney beans
4 Tbsp. butter
1 cup finely chopped scallions, including 3-inches of the green tops, divided use
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
4 cups water
1 (1 pound) smoked ham hock
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 cups freshly cooked long-grained rice (for serving)

In a heavy 3-4 quart saucepan, bring 6 cups water to a boil over high heat. Drop in the beans and boil briskly, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let the beans soak for 1 hour. (Alternatively, you can soak the beans over night in water.) In either case, drain and rinse the beans in a sieve set over a large bowl. Set the beans aside.

Melt the butter in a heavy 4 or 5 quart casserole or stockpot. When the foam begins to subside, add 1/2 cup of the scallions, the onions and the garlic and, stirring frequently, cook for about 5 minutes, or until they are soft and translucent but not brown.

Stir in the beans and 4 cups water, the ham hocks, salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer partially covered for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the beans are quite soft. Check the pot from time to time and, if the beans seem dry, add up to 1 cup more water, a few tablespoons at a time. During the last 30 minutes or so of cooking, stir frequently and mash some of the softest beans against the side of the pan to form a thick sauce for the remaining beans.

With tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the ham hocks to a plate. Cut the meat away from the bones and remove and discard the skin, fat and gristle. Cut the meat into 1/4-inch dice and return it to the beans.

Taste the beans for seasoning and serve at once, directly from a large heated tureen. Place the rice and remaining 1/2 cup of scallions in separate bowls and present them with the beans.

Note: In Louisiana, red beans and rice are traditionally made with a leftover ham bone and you may substitute a ham bone for the ham hocks in this recipe. Without trimming off the meat, cut the bone into 2 or 3 inch pieces with a hacksaw, so that the marrow inside the pieces will melt and flavor the beans. Add the pieces of bone to the soaked beans and water and pour in enough additional water to cover then completely. When the beans are cooked, remove the bones from the pot, trim off and dice the meat, and return it to the beans. Discard the bones.


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Wondra Gumbo is wonderful

Gumbo, Wondra, what the? Well, actually yes, they do work together and your Gumbo is still a Creole – Cajun dish.

Why Wondra you may ask?  The answer will be obvious once you understand what Wondra is. Spoiler alert, its explained near the bottom.

Now back to Gumbo, the most well known trait of a good Gumbo is the Roux, it’s this mixture of flour and oil , cooked until you reach the level of nuttiness and color you prefer. What isn’t widely known is that the darker the Roux, the more you cook the flour the less it acts as a thickener.

Enter stage left,  Okra and File, two classic ways to thicken a gumbo roux. In Creole cooking the Okra is more widely used and in Cajun cooking it’s File.

Back to flour, its flavor changes the longer it is cooked, and I prefer that very dark, chocolate color and nutty flavor that comes from a long cook. So my roux does a poor job of thickening the gumbo.

Francene just doesn’t like Okra unless it’s fried and File has a flavor to it.  A flavor that adds if used sparingly and overpowers if dumped in.

In a typical Gumbo recipe you would have a roux of 1 cup oil and 1 cup flour, cooked till you reach the desired color. Add your trinity and then add about 3 quarts of liquid, chicken or beef broth. Then add the goodies and simmer.

If the roux (remember, I like a dark chocolate roux) isn’t going to act as a thickener then you have to simmer to reduce the liquid otherwise you will be simmering forever, and your goodies will become mush.

For those that don’t know, Gumbo is actually a soup with more body similar to a stew.

I’ve added what I think is a reasonable amount of file, and it’s still too soupy. Well, Thanksgiving is closing in, and in the back of our minds, Thanksgiving recipes have been racing around, including gravy.

I have never hesitated using Wondra in a gravy, and it has never had that raw flour taste, so I reach into the pantry and grab the blue tube and go for it. Wondra flour is super fine so it doesn’t clump, mixes well, and gets you to where you want to go quickly.

I taste the Gumbo and it’s great, but why doesn’t it taste like raw flour, well it’s because the flour has already been cooked. And it is mixed with a malted barley so we have a finished taste right from the container.

If the flavor of the Gumbo changed any, I couldn’t tell and if so, it just might have smoothed out a bit.

So the moral of the story is to not be afraid to think out of the box, a tube may just be what you are looking for.

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Maque Choux is a Cajun dish that I grew up with

So, fall is officially here.  With all the fresh local vegetables that have been harvested, it’s the best time to make Maque Choux.   IMHO.

Maque Choux is a Cajun dish that I grew up with.  My Dad made it for our family & now my Mom, my siblings & I all enjoy making it for our families. It is rare for there to be leftover Maque Choux but it does taste even better the next day.

If you go out & research the dish, you will be surprised with what you find.  The diversity of the ingredients and the way the dish is cooked is surprising. I would say that each family has their own “Traditional “ version.   All others are to be rejected.  Really, though, you should go out & look it up. Some of the different ones look delicious and could be used as a main dish with the addition of the various proteins.

I am going to only give rough quantities as I do not measure when I make this dish.

  • 6 ears of fresh corn
  • One onion cut into thin ribbons
  • Tomatoes (roughly chopped)
  • Butter –( unsalted) I use half butter & half olive oil (my arteries thank me for that)
  • Salt (kosher) & fresh Ground pepper

First you cut the kernels off the corn.  The first pass should just cut the top part of the kernels off.  Then you take you knife & scrape the remaining juices from the cob.  This is called “milking” the cob.

Next step is to put it over med high heat in your trusty cast iron pan.  Then add the butter & olive oil.  Probably  the amount is a quarter of a stick of butter & the equivalent in olive oil.  If I am feeling especially indulgent, I will use butter only.  It does give it a rich flavor.

I sauté that for a while until the corn starts to get tender and then I toss in the onions and tomatoes. After that a medium simmer for all the ingredients to meld together & until they are all cooked through.

Last you salt & pepper to taste.

I do invite you to cook this dish if you’ve not had it in the past.   I also know that there is the possibility that Feedback from my siblings & cousins might provide some wonderful variations as well.   Please let me know your Thoughts on this & happy cooking!

Francene (Conner) Jones

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Gumbo with tomatoes, what did you say? Tomatoes?

I’m an adventurous soul and I enjoy good food. The one thing that doesn’t really appeal to me is to eat the same thing over and over.

The exception; now and again I will find a meal that just rings my chimes, but I didn’t write the recipe down, I’ll remember it. Ya, right. I made a cioppino that was to die for, a vegetation roasted lasagna so good the guests wanted to keep the leftovers. Not a problem my iron clad memory, and the fact that I got my inspiration from an internet recipe would ensure total recall, ya, for 10 minutes if I’m lucky.

And why can’t we ever find the internet recipe again, I typed in Roasted Vegetarian Lasagna the first time, or did I? Maybe I typed in lasagna with vegetables, or maybe I didn’t even type in lasagna, I probably typed in spaghetti with meatballs and the search engine found me the roasted vegetable lasagna instead. I’ll never know anything for sure, except it’s never been found again.

I digress, as this is about Gumbo, and the fact that there is only one way to make it, and that’s without tomatoes.  I should know this, I am married to a Cajun after all. I sat the bowl in front of her and noticing the tomatoes, she said ‘Tomatoes?’ I answered ‘Yes, tomatoes’ she started texting the question ‘Tomatoes in Gumbo?’  The replies from all those in the know ‘sacrilege’ . Goes to show what a group of western Cajuns know.

Now, if they had ever traveled east of Iberia they would have replied ‘Yes, tomatoes’. Point is that there are so many ways to make Gumbo you should never make it the same way twice. Like oysters?  Put oysters in it. If you are on a budget, keep it to Andouille and chicken, but if you need a stretcher, slice hard boiled egg into it. The only two things that you can’t do is burn the roux and not start over, and pass judgement before tasting.

Gumbo is technically a soup, although sometimes it’s thickened to a consistency of a stew. It’s always served with rice.

My tomato gumbo started with a cup of my prepared roux, heated until the oil was at hot, and then I added a package of my pre-made Holy Trinity and stirred till the aroma was heavenly. At the same time the chicken was sauteed along with a foot-long, homemade, Andouille sausage.

I then combined 1 quart of water and 1 quart of our homemade fish stock. What? You don’t have homemade fish stock? Then add a bottle of clam juice or just chicken stock to 2 quarts.

Now I experimented, as I found 2 cans of roasted tomatoes in the pantry as well as a can opener, and could feel Francene’s eyes boring into me. In they went. The eyes and the tomatoes.

Up to this point I haven’t added any seasoning because the Trinity was salt and peppered as well as adding garlic, making it really a foursome. I also had added the Andouille sausage that was loaded with our Louisiana seasoning mix and wine. To have added seasoning early on would have been dangerous. It’s hard to take out.

When the Gumbo was almost finished I added two pounds of shrimp and let it simmer a few more minutes. Here is where you would finally season to taste. We found it was already just right.

How was the Gumbo with tomatoes, well it’s all gone, so something must have worked. The Cajun, well she found a lot of Gumbo recipes that included tomatoes. She hasn’t apologized for doubting me though.

If you’re a Gumbo connoisseur then go to the World Championship Gumbo Cookoff in Iberia Louisiana every October.

https://www.iberiatravel.com/blog/article/8-gumbo-cookoff-secrets-success

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Louisiana Andouille Sausage, making your own or that store bought stuff

Hopefully the title will tell you what I think about that packaged stuff. In the past I have purchased off the shelf and it has always been disappointing. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that we decided to start making our own sausage, not just andouille but kielbasa, breakfast patties, stuffed pork sausage with jalapenos, the list goes on. Sure, you have to deal with casings, grinding meat and stuffing away, but the end results are sure worth it.

Sausage days are either when it’s gone and we need it or holiday meat sales. I was in the local supermarket and they had pork shoulder at $1.49 a pound, an okay price but to sweeten the deal it was buy one, get one. 2 little piggy’s came home with me.

One went into the freezer for some smoked pulled pork and the other for andouille.

I start by cutting the meat into 1 inch strips after removing the blade. Save the blade and all other bones for making your bone broth. You don’t make your own bone broth? Save the bones anyway and find some that does. Maybe they will share with you.

We use the greatest multi-tasker made, the Kitchen Aid mixer and a host of their attachments. It’s a great machine for the home cook. Grind the meat with a medium cutter and it goes pretty quickly. After grinding you mix in your seasoning. We use a slightly modified version or Emeril Lagasse’s Essence. We use 1/4 cup per 2 1/2 pounds of meat. You should then add 1/3 cup ice water (we use 1/3 cup red wine) per 2 1/2 lbs meat. Mix well and put back into the refrigerator for an overnight melding of flavors.

I suggest you start with Emeril’s Essence and then modify for taste or any other good Louisiana seasoning recipe. The secret to Andouille is like all Cajun and Creole cooking. Use what’s available and season to taste.

We cook with wine a lot, some of it even goes into the food.

  • Ingredients for Essence (Emeril’s Creole Seasoning):
    2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
    2 tablespoons salt
    2 tablespoons garlic powder
    1 tablespoon black pepper
    1 tablespoon onion powder
    1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
    1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano
    1 tablespoon dried thyme

Day 2, set up the sausage stuffer and load your rinsed casing onto the tube. Although one can do the job, two makes it easier. We do a limp stuff instead of filling the casing, this allows us to tie off separate links (yes, we can spin, squeeze and reverse spin but it’s hard to get separate links that way). To help the casing slide off the tube keep dripping water onto it.

I like links around 1 foot or a little longer. When using in a recipe the 1 foot link is just about right.

Next comes the smoking, this is what makes or breaks the sausage. In the beginning I smoked the links at around 200° but the sausage cooked too quickly with getting enough smoke. Now it’s set for 160° and takes about 2 hours to finish. Perfect

No respectable Gumbo is without a good, smoked andouille sausage. Andouille may be substituted for many recipes calling for a smoked sausage such as the Spanish Paella and Jambalaya.

This is a perishable product and we do not add nitrates so right into freezer for these.

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Roux the oven method, you won’t rue the day.

How to make roux; more arguments, accusations of blasphemy and down right name calling have been attributed to the proper way to make a roux. First off, what is a roux and why do we care? Gumbo is why, with roux you wouldn't have gumbo, well, maybe a few other reasons as well.

A roux is simply nothing more than heating oil and flour to make a thickener that also adds a layer of flavor. For classic French cuisine the roux will be a lighter color, a blonde. For Southern American cooking the roux will be darker, from a toasty brown to a dark chocolate color.

When used in Cajun or Creole cooking there are more opinions than cooks. The Cajuns use a lighter roux than the Creoles, what? it's the other way around. Irregardless of who uses what, we first have to make the roux.

I have for years cooked the oil and flour in a cast iron skillet stove top. This makes a wonderful roux that you have complete control over, start to finish. So when you burn it and start over you only have yourself to blame. This method requires constant supervision, continuous stirring and scraping the skillet with a wooden (my choice) paddle. Do not answer the door, do not answer the phone, let the children wreck havoc. The roux comes first.

I think there are five different ways to make a roux including the microwave. I have slid over into the oven camp. To me I have the same control as stove top, and even finish the roux on the stove top. Simply put equal amounts of oil and flour in a heavy pot, preferably cast iron and bake at 350 degrees.

Sounds easy and is easy. But a little more hands on than that. I heat the oil on medium high and slowly whisk the flour in so it’s silky smooth and slightly bubbling. I then move the roux to the oven at 350 degrees and set my timers for 15 minute intervals.

Every 15 minutes I check and whisk the mixture. The flour will always keep settling to the bottom.

I did 4 cups each oil and flour so I could freeze 1 cup in zip-locks, thus my roux took longer to get to my desired color. Once it did get to the milk chocolate color, I removed the mixture from the oven.

Now on the stove top, I finished my roux the old fashioned way, untill I reached the semi-sweet chocolate color. Actually I removed the roux from the heat before I got there because the hot pot will keep cooking the roux. Many a roux has been ruined in the last 5 minutes because the cook forgot it keeps cooking and can still burn even though the burner has been turned off.

Cooking this way gives you your hands and a burner for the next hour or so. Go ahead, chop those onions, celery and sweet peppers. Sauté them to perfection, you have time while the roux is in the oven.

Now I have my roux for tonight’s dinner as well as the next 3 dinners that require a good dark roux. And if you did the Trinity at the same time your next three meals will be a breeze.

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Red Beans and Rice, beans are beans and rice is rice, right?

Red Beans and Rice is not made from a can or box of seasoning.

I was 20 years old and visiting one of my friends and his Mother when the conversation turned to food.   Jim's mother told me she was from the south.  To me it was the 'south of what'? But she continued with stories about some great foods, and Red Beans and Rice in particular. Probably because that was what was on the table before us.

Now to me, beans were beans and rice was rice, but what I was eating sure didn't stop there as it was just something new and wonderful.  I never did get a recipe from Doris, and didn't really give a lot more thought to the subject, I just remembered how good it was.

A few years later after subscribing to the Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook series, the Creole-Acadian issue showed up and like fate it seemed to drop open to Red Beans and Rice. Oh ya, my interest was on high.

Now I can tell you that there is no short cuts to this meal. It takes forever to cook and tastes like heaven when you scoop a mouthful.

I see recipes for all kinds of short cuts from our Southern Celebrity Chefs and wonder how they can refer to a few cans of red beans and some andouille from a supermarket as Red Beans and Rice.

Now when put down some store bought sausage I need for you to understand that I live in Oregon. You may find some great Andouille in a southern supermarket; I mean you have Trappy's down there. We don't.

I think the major sausage makers in our stores make one sausage, a form of kielbasa and then change the label if they include some liquid smoke, oh the shame of it.

So why this recipe is so great, time and ham hocks. Lots of ham hocks with lots of marrow and the time to cook it out of the bone and into the dish, then at the end you take the back of a serving spoon and mash some of the beans to create a fantastic gravy.

Go for it, you will not be disappointed. Please don't take any shortcuts.

This recipe is straight out of the Creole and Acadian Time-Life Foods of the World series of cook books.

RED BEANS AND RICE
Serves 4-6

6 cups water
1 pound dried small red beans or 1 pound dried red kidney beans
4 Tbsp. butter
1 cup finely chopped scallions, including 3-inches of the green tops, divided use
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
4 cups water
1 (1 pound) smoked ham hock
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 cups freshly cooked long-grained rice (for serving)

In a heavy 3-4 quart saucepan, bring 6 cups water to a boil over high heat. Drop in the beans and boil briskly, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let the beans soak for 1 hour. (Alternatively, you can soak the beans over night in water.) In either case, drain and rinse the beans in a sieve set over a large bowl. Set the beans aside.

Melt the butter in a heavy 4 or 5 quart casserole or stockpot. When the foam begins to subside, add 1/2 cup of the scallions, the onions and the garlic and, stirring frequently, cook for about 5 minutes, or until they are soft and translucent but not brown.

Stir in the beans and 4 cups water, the ham hocks, salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer partially covered for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the beans are quite soft. Check the pot from time to time and, if the beans seem dry, add up to 1 cup more water, a few tablespoons at a time. During the last 30 minutes or so of cooking, stir frequently and mash some of the softest beans against the side of the pan to form a thick sauce for the remaining beans.

With tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the ham hocks to a plate. Cut the meat away from the bones and remove and discard the skin, fat and gristle. Cut the meat into 1/4-inch dice and return it to the beans.

Taste the beans for seasoning and serve at once, directly from a large heated tureen. Place the rice and remaining 1/2 cup of scallions in separate bowls and present them with the beans.

Note: In Louisiana, red beans and rice are traditionally made with a leftover ham bone and you may substitute a ham bone for the ham hocks in this recipe. Without trimming off the meat, cut the bone into 2 or 3 inch pieces with a hacksaw, so that the marrow inside the pieces will melt and flavor the beans. Add the pieces of bone to the soaked beans and water and pour in enough additional water to cover then completely. When the beans are cooked, remove the bones from the pot, trim off and dice the meat, and return it to the beans. Discard the bones.

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The Holy Trinity

Cajun or Creole, to most of us they are the same. But if you live in Lousianna I wouldn’t say that too loudly. The food from this region is the best I have ever eaten. I just love the whole experience. For sake of space, I will call both types of food Cajun (even though they aren’t the same). Food from this region and style teaches us about building a meal. Blasphemy, to say throw everything in a pot. Cajun food is layered, a foundation, then the sill, then on and on. Then you blend the flavors. When possible, if I provide a recipe I will try to give both variants.

The best descriptive differences between Acadian/Cajun and Creole I have found can be read here. Even though I am married to a Cajun.

The Holy Trinity is the lowest part of the foundation. It consists of onions, celery and peppers (generally green peppers). I add a fourth component at this stage, and that is garlic. And I will probably add more garlic to some other layer as I go.

You will see that I have a mix of onions and a mix of green, yellow, and red bell peppers. Why? Because that was what was in the pantry, and needed to used up. Cajun and Creole food is about using what is on hand, you should never create the same Gumbo or Jambalaya, where is the fun in that? The mix consists of 2 parts onion to 1 part peppers and 1 part celery.

I used to be in a hurry and throw all of the trinity components into a food processor and chop away. Wrong, bad cook. All of the components are thin cell structures full of water. Over chop it and when you cook the layers you will end up with mush. Instead, take the time and do a medium to coarse chop and take your time. I would post on YouTube showing my fancy knife work, including the fancy blood spurting. But it’s kind of gross.

I have many skillets, but nothing beats the even heat of cast iron when cooking the Trinity. Over medium heat first add your oil, I used ghee* then add the onions and garlic and cook till translucent, and then add the peppers. Cook for another 5 minutes and finally add the celery, then cook for another 5 minutes, all over a medium heat and stirring more than occasionally.

What I show here is enough Trinity for 4 dishes. You usually cook 1/2 cup onion and 3/4 of a cup each of the peppers and celery.

What I accomplished this evening was creating the foundation for future dinners. I see all kinds of recipes for Gumbo made now, red beans and rice in 1/2 hour. Don’t even go there, you just can not make Gumbo, Jambalaya etc. on the fly. But if you take a boring evening and cook up 4 freezer bags of Holy Trinity/ Then some other evening or rainy Saturday make your Rue and freeze. Finish it off by getting some pork shoulders to make your own andouille sausage (not that garlicky, smoked stuff you buy in the store), and you will have the making for some truly fine food that can be assembled in a very short time.

*Ghee is a form of clarified butter that removes the milk solids from the butter, taste like butter but has a much higher smoke point then whole butter has.

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