No matter how you make it, New Orleans Red Beans and Rice will always be a Mardi Gras tradition.
Red Beans and Rice Variations
There's more to this classic dish than beans. For some cooks, ham hocks, andouille sausage, or bacon are a must; for others, it's pickled or salt pork.
Food writer Marcelle Bienvenu, who has collaborated with Emeril Lagasse on several cookbooks and who edits the cooking section of his Web site, says, "Some people like to serve fried pork chops with red beans and rice; others omit the smoked sausage in the pot but serve a link of sausage with the red beans. Everyone has his or her own version, depending on family traditions."
Former Southern Living Lifestyle Editor and New Orleans native Majella Chube Hamilton uses smoked turkey to give her red beans their characteristic flavor, while her mom, Merion Chube, sticks to smoked sausage and, sometimes, ham hocks. "It's not a seasoning I use often," Merion says, "but when I visit family in Indianapolis, I know my son-in-law and his dad like my red beans cooked with ham hocks."
Even if you use andouille sausage, ham hocks, bacon, or salt pork, everyone can agree that red beans and rice is a classic and a necessity in New Orleans and the South.
History of Red Beans and Rice
After chatting with food experts and home cooks, we quickly learned that no two red beans and rice recipes are alike. "In New Orleans, you come out of the womb instinctually knowing how to cook red beans and rice. Really, only the nervous newlywed follows a recipe," says Poppy Tooker, a Louisiana native who is one of four U.S. international governors of Slow Food, an Italy-based organization dedicated to preserving world food traditions.
Nobody knows exactly when the dish was born: "Red beans have been ingrained in the New Orleans landscape for about 200 years," Poppy says. It is well known that Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong loved them. In a letter to a fellow New Orleanian, Armstrong wrote, "It really shouldn't be any problem at all for you to figure out my favorite dish. We all were brought up eating the same thing, so I will tell you: Red Beans and Rice with Ham Hocks is my birthmark." We should all be so lucky.