Sunday, January 10, 2010

Economical Eating--Red Beans and Rice

So, it's after Christmas, we're broke and feeling a little pudgy from too many of Nanny's pirogies (coated with brown butter, no less!) and Brandon's mother's pecan pies. Paying off our Christmas debt is now priority 1, thus I am faced with the challenge of (more) economical cooking--goodbye figs and arugula, goodbye balsamic-glazed pears, goodbye beloved parmesan-reggiano. Hello beans and rice! Often, the simplest recipes are the most satisfying, so perhaps this economical food thing won't be so bad, plus saving money tastes pretty good right now.

I haven't made red beans and rice before, but it must be popular for a reason. I checked out Cook's Illustrated to see what a top-notch chef's recipe would look like. To my not-so-unexpected dismay, I found it's pushing twenty ingredients, two of which are fresh thyme and andouille sausage. I had neither, nor did I have bacon or green peppers, a shame, but I refused to go to the store.

Also, I had no time to cook the beans on the stove according to the recipe. The night before I threw into the crockpot everything I did have (all of the herbs and spices--dried thyme instead of fresh--onions and garlic), minus the chicken stock, water, and vinegar, and stuck it in the fridge. I soaked the beans in their own pot. I did have the suggested red beans rather than the "authentic camellia," which Cook's says are difficult to find and not necessary to have, so that lent a small confidence boost.

In the morning I drained the beans, poured them into the crockpot with the other stuff and mixed. Then added the liquids. When I came home for lunch the house smelled divine. It was all I could do not to dive into the pot right then. In fact, I sort of did. The first bean I tasted was frighteningly hard. Oh no. Up went the heat and the cooking time.

When I came home in the evening the house still smelled as if someone had been there cooking delicious foods all day long. I boiled some rice, mashed a few of the beans to thicken up the liquid and ladled them over the rice. Anything smelling that good couldn't possibly be bad, and it's true. The whole dish was very edible and in fact almost as good as it smelled! My only regret is that I didn't have bacon...

I would encourage any of you to try some good ole red beans and rice if you're penny pinching!

Soak the beans for more than 8 hours (I'd suggest soaking to the limit of 24). Mine were still a little tougher than I'd hoped after 10 hours of soaking and 9 hours of cooking.

I would cut down on the water in the crock pot. I used four cups (+ 3 cups broth) and I would suggest using only 2 or 3.

Use what you have and be creative. The beans can handle it.

Serves 6 to 8. Published January 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.

Table salt
1 pound small red beans (about 2 cups), rinsed and picked over
4 slices bacon (about 4 ounces), chopped fine (see note)
1 medium onion , chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1 small green bell pepper , seeded and chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
1 celery rib , chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon sweet paprika (see note)
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Ground black pepper
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
6 cups water
8 ounces andouille sausage , halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices (see note)
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar , plus extra for seasoning
Basic White Rice (see related recipe)
3 scallions , white and green parts, sliced thin
Hot sauce (optional)

1. Dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts cold water in large bowl or container. Add beans and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.

2. Heat bacon in large Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and almost fully rendered, 5 to 8 minutes. Add onion, green pepper, and celery; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme, paprika, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in beans, broth, and water; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and vigorously simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are just soft and liquid begins to thicken, 45 to 60 minutes.

3. Stir in sausage and 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar and cook until liquid is thick and beans are fully tender and creamy, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and additional red wine vinegar. Serve over rice, sprinkling with scallions and passing hot sauce separately, if desired.

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