Cooking with the Monkey Pt. 02byRedMonkeyButt©
As usual, any and all comments and feedback are welcome as long as it's creative.
Red Beans and Rice
This is a meal my family has at least twice a month. Not only do we love it that much, but it sure beats the shit out of pizza every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I don't generally serve it with a bunch of sides unless I'm serving a crowd, so at the end I will have in italics my notes for serving that crowd. This takes some planning ahead of time, so don't expect to whip this up in a hurry when unexpected company arrives. That is what the pizza is for.
Today, and possibly part of yesterday, we are going to make red beans and rice. If you haven't had true Cajun red beans and rice, you don't know what you're missing. Get thyself to the South of Louisiana and bury your ever loving face in a pot of this.
You Will Need:
16 oz red beans (soak them if you must)
1 T bacon grease (can substitute regular cooking oil, but come on! Live on the edge and use pork fat!)
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ pound andouille sausage, cubed*
½ cup of parsley, minced (yeah, I don't use this much)
2 bay leaves
1 t dried thyme or 1 sprig fresh
1 t dried leaf oregano
1 t sweet paprika (I've left this out, up to you)
1 T Worcestershire sauce (or, if you're like me, just splash some in there til you're happy)
Cayenne, salt, and black pepper to taste (1 t cayenne, 1 t salt, ½ t black pepper)
2 smoked ham hocks (I use 4-6 ham hocks...)
8 cups chicken broth or water**
4 green onions, green parts chopped (save the rest for something else, or get them to root in a jar and keep using the green parts that grow)
6 cups cooked rice
*If you cannot find andouille, use your favorite sausage. Just make sure it's a firm smoked sausage and not something crumbly like breakfast sausage and you'll be fine. Pork/beef sausages work best, though.
**Wait til after the first steps in this process to decide if you want to use the chicken broth or do what I do.
Please keep in mind that I buy my meat at a meat market. At some point, the pig who belonged to the hocks I am cooking with today was hanging in a freezer. While I was at the market, I may have also bought the pig's shoulder, chops, and bacon. Since I have access to such a nice small meat market, I am used to very good quality meats. The hocks I buy are cut into pieces about the size of a baseball, are smoked on-site, and then put in a bag and frozen. Yes, I have gotten the pre-packaged ham hocks from my local grocery store. No, those do not work the same in this recipe.
Part One of the Process
If you're like me, you like the smokey taste of the ham hocks in your red beans and rice. This is where the process to make this dish gets the time expansion. I use 4-6 ham hocks for this because I like the added flavor of using more, and because my local butcher packages them by weight and I just use on whole bag.
Anywho, dump those hocks in a pot and cover them with water. If you want, you can add the trinity to this (bell pepper, celery, onion) but I don't. Boil them until they are falling off the bone. This will take several hours depending on how hard you boil them and how big the hocks are. Watch them, let them simmer pretty good for at least two hours, and then start checking them. If you can grab a bone end with a pair of tongs and it slides out of the meat, they're done.
If you do not want to go to this trouble:
Then you can skip this part and go right on to making the beans. I have added the ham hocks right into the pot with the cooking beans and chicken broth. It turns out just fine. Please note, however, that you will be finding bones til kingdom come if you do it that way. This process takes longer, but it saves a lot of pain and heartache later.
Alternatively, you could add some finely chopped bacon to the pot. It won't be the same, but if it's all you have and you must, then do it. But don't run to me when it doesn't turn out like that wonderful bowl of red beans and rice you had when you visited New Orleans that one time. You know why theirs was better? They used ham hocks.
Get another large pot out and put it over medium heat. Saute the trinity in the bacon grease for about 10 minutes or until everything's soft. Add the garlic and sausage and cook another few minutes.
With a sieve (and maybe some help) pour the broth from the ham hocks into the pot with the veggies. Take the meat off to the side and shred it off the bones. Discard the bones, they've done their job and just added a whole new dimension of flavor to your beans. Add the meat back into the pot and throw the beans, seasonings, and the kitchen sink into the pot. HOLD OFF ON THE SALT Adding salt right now can make your beans hard later.
Now, some people cannot make a pot of beans without soaking the beans first. Most people swear by this process. I say fuck. that. shit. If you soaked your beans, your pot will be done in about 2-3 hours at a steady simmer. If you did not soak your beans, boil them hard right now for about 1 hour, and then simmer them for 3-4 hours. They'll be just as good as the soaked beans. In this dish, they will be even better because they will still be firm enough to hold up against anything else on the plate and not just a huge pot of mush.
If you are using fresh thyme and bay leaf, tie them together in a bundle before throwing them in the pot. The thyme will lose the leaves as it cooks, and then when it's done you just fish one bundle out instead of two leaves and a twig. If you don't have any twine to tie them together, then for the love of little green men take the leaves off the thyme twig. Bay leaves are easy to fish out of a pot, twigs are not.
After simmering the beans for at least 2 hours (stirring occasionally) remove the lid and continue to simmer them and stir them. If the liquid gets too low, add some water or chicken broth. Check the beans after this. They should be soft enough to eat but still firm enough not to be mush in your mouth. Hell, you better know when the beans are done by now or you should just get out of the kitchen.
When the beans are done, smash some of them against the side of the pot and stir them really good. This helps thicken the broth even more and makes them creamier.
Serve the beans over rice and put some hot sauce on the table. Tobasco is fine as long as it's the original red. For an extra kick, find the Louisiana Gold hot sauce.
Part Three, The Rice
Now, you can do the rice the same as people have been doing it for years - one cup of rice, two cups of water, and a pinch of salt boiled for 20 minutes or so. Or, you can do it a different way and treat your rice more like you would treat pasta and boil it in a lot of water.
Put your rice in a mesh strainer and rinse it under the tap until the water runs clear. What this does is knock off a lot of the starch from the outside of the rice. Follow the formula - one cup of rice to one quart of water and one tablespoon kosher salt. You can add a couple bay leaves to this as well.
Bring the water to a boil and add the salt and bay leaves. Add the rice and stir once to make sure the rice doesn't stick. Do NOT stir the rice again! If you agitate the rice too much it will become sticky, and that's not what we're going for here. When it comes back to a boil partially cover it and let it cook for 11 minutes. Taste it at this point. It should have some bite, but a crunch is bad. Again, think pasta. When it's done, strain it and put it in your serving receptacle. Oh, and don't forget to take the bay leaves out.
I like to do this for Cajun dishes served over rice (red beans, etouffee, gumbo, etc). I use Basmati or Jasmine rice, or your regular everyday long grain white rice. This method keeps the rice separate when you put it in a bowl with the beans, so you get rice in every bite. If you do it the way mentioned at first, it will be sticky. Either way is good, so this is really just up to your own personal preference.
Serve the red beans over the rice with a good French bread, corn on the cob, green beans, or just by itself. This is a really good stand alone dish, but at least with the bread you can sop up the juices.
If I am making this for a crowd, I do not put the sausage in with the beans. I leave it out, cut it into pieces about 3-4 inches long and cut those in half lengthwise. We put those on the grill or cook them on the stove top on a cast-iron griddle and serve it as a side. Since I use enough ham hocks that the beans have a fair amount of meat in them, this isn't a problem.
Depending on the size and hunger of the crowd, the usual sides I mentioned can be served as well. For a very large crowd, though, the red beans and rice are a side dish to fried catfish, wings, or some other party-friendly food.
Or shrimp if you either don't like or can't get crawfish.
Now, for the longest time I shyed away from making etouffee even though I could honestly live off the stuff for the rest of my life. Why, you might ask, did I not want to make my own etouffee if I love it so much? Because for etouffee, I have to make a roux.
A roux (pronounced ROO for those of you that don't know) is fat and flour cooked over low to medium-low heat until it is the desired color and it is used to thicken sauces and soups and stuff. Usually it's a fifty/fifty mixture of fat to flour, but sometimes the cook puts more fat and sometimes they put more flour. Depends on the cook.
There are different levels of roux - there's a blond roux (more commonly called a slurry), a medium roux (about the color of peanut butter), and there's a dark roux (the color of chocolate). My etouffee recipe calls for a dark roux, and it was this that made me balk at making it for so long. You know why? Because a chocolate colored roux takes forever to make. Like, the history of forever. You can stand and stir that shit on the stove and finish War and Peace before it's done. I don't know about you, but I ain't got that kind of time.
Along comes my miracle. Dark roux in a jar at my local grocery store. I'm in Texas, people, so my local grocery store is HEB. My friend in a different city goes to HEB. We all have the same damn grocery. I don't know if your local store will carry dark roux in a jar. If you want to look for it, the stuff we have here is called Ragin' Cajun' dark roux. It will look like Nutella with an oil slick on top of it because the cooked flour has settled out of suspension. That's the stuff you want. Don't get Nutella and think it will do the same thing. It won't.
Imagine my fury when I found an even better recipe that didn't call for a dark roux. That's the recipe I'm going to share, although I will also make notes as to how to make a dark roux and what you can use it for. Who knows, maybe I'll post one of those recipes later.
I should probably note here that this recipe will serve 4 as an appetizer, or 2 as a large entree. So it's not my usual throw everything into the pot and feed an army.
The Shopping List
2 T Creole seasoning (recipe following)
4 T Unsalted butter (BUTTER, not margarine)
½ c onion, finely chopped
¼ c celery, finely chopped
¼ c bell pepper, finely chopped
¼ c flour
¾ c fresh tomatoes, diced
1 ½ c shrimp stock (recipe following)
2 T minced garlic
1 bundle fresh thyme (I'm not sure how big a bundle is in your neck of the woods, but they're pretty big here. I used 2 sprigs)
2 t Worcestershire sauce
1 t hot sauce (Tobasco or Louisiana Gold)
½ c green onions, thinly sliced
3 T finely chopped parsley
2 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined, save the shells for the shrimp stock
3 T unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste
For those of you who don't want to use Tony Cachere's (Satch Er EEs), here's a recipe for your own homemade Creole Seasoning.
1/2 Cup Kosher Salt
1/3 Cup Paprika
1/4 Cup Granulated Garlic
4 Tbsp Onion Powder
1/3 Cup Black Pepper
3 Tbsp White Pepper
2 Tbsp Cayenne Pepper
2 Tbsp Dried Thyme
2 Tbsp Dried Basil
1 Tbsp Dried Oregano
Combine it all and keep it in an air-tight container out of direct sunlight, just like any other spices.
For the Shrimp Stock
First, I would like to say that if you can buy fresh shrimp with the heads still on, please do so. It takes very little extra effort to remove the heads yourself. If you can't stand the thought of beheading a shrimp (hey, those spines do hurt), see if you can keep the heads when the fish-monger dude does it for you. If he'll shell and devein the shrimp, too, more power to ya. That is my least favorite part.
Shells and tails (and heads if you got 'em) from 2 lbs of shrimp
½ c onion, chopped
¼ c celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 lemon, sliced
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 t black peppercorns
Toss all of this into a pot and cover with about 6-8 cups of cold water. Bring this whole mess almost to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer and let it go for about an hour. Strain this into a jar or several jars. It freezes well for the next time you need it.
Get to Cookin'
Season the shrimp with half of the Creole seasoning and set them aside in the fridge.
In a large skillet or medium pot, melt the butter and then saute the onion, bell pepper, and celery until translucent. Whisk in the flour to make a blond roux and stir it constantly for about 5 minutes. This should be about the limit of where your arm wants to fall off and run screaming. And to think, I made this with a homemade dark roux that took 45 minutes of constant stirring. Aren't you happy I'm not sharing that with you?
Stir in the remaining seasoning mix. Stir in a little bit of the shrimp stock, stirring constantly, until a paste forms. This is generally where you want to have a helper in the kitchen with you to pour or take over stirring. Keep adding the stock a little at a time and keep stirring, until it is all incorporated. At some point you'll notice that the roux is dissolved and you can pour the rest of the stock in. The end result of all of this should be the consistency of a gravy, not too thin and not too thick. If it's too thick, add a little more of the stock. If it seems too thin, turn the heat up slightly and keep stirring until it thickens to where you want it.
Throw in the tomatoes, garlic, thyme, Worcestershire, and hot sauce, a little salt, pepper, and Cayenne, and simmer for 20-30 minutes stirring occasionally. Add in the shrimp, green onions and parsley, simmer for a few minutes more or until the shrimp are cooked through. This is where I generally turn the heat off and take the pan from the burner. Shrimp are very easy to overdo.
For those of you about to bite my head off for not saying anything about crawfish except for the title, I'm getting to that.
You're going to want to eat a large meal before setting about peeling enough crawfish to get 2 lbs of tail meat. When you get the container for the meat, also get a container for the head fat and a box for the heads.
Remove the head from the crawfish and shake the fat into the fat container, put the head in the box. Here is the reason you want to eat a large meal before doing this. Remove the tail meat and put it in the container you brought out for the meat. Do not eat it. Continue this process until you have roughly 2 lbs of tail meat. Sit back and realize that this work you just did is why packaged tail meat is so fucking expensive.
Make the recipe as it is written with the exception that you can add that head fat in with the roux just before you add the stock, and you can use the heads to make the stock. Since the tail meat is already cooked, you can just heat it through with the sauce before serving it over rice.
Use the same rice recipe I wrote out up above, or whatever rice you want.
If you have some French rolls (tiny little French breads about the size of a baked potato), take them and cut a slit lengthwise down the middle. Don't cut all the way through. Pull some of the bread out of the middle and fill those cavities with the etouffee. Serve that with a green salad and a big ol' glass of sweet tea and you got yourself a mighty fine meal.
Unlike other recipes I've posted in the How-to section, etouffee is not something where I just throw stuff into a pot and know for sure it's going to turn out fine. This is one of the few recipes I have in a page protector in a binder on my counter that I actually follow. Yes, that means I sit there and chop everything up and then I measure it all out. Usually, these measurements do not cover the entire vegetable. What I don't use in the etouffee, I use in the stock or I freeze for another dish. I'm young, but I was raised in a time and place where very little went to waste. This is why even though I don't suck the crawfish heads, I do use the fat in the food and the head in the stock. Waste not, want not.