Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

Calling a cookbook “essential” is a bit cliché, but that’s not the case with Toni Tipton-Martin’s Jubilee, this year’s James Beard Award winner for Best American cookbook. We’re in a state of reckoning right now in America, a necessary reckoning that’s had reverberations in the food world (see: Bon Appetit) and has forced many of us to question our own blindness when it comes to racial inequality.

For me, that blindness is made manifest on my cookbook shelf. I have hundreds of cookbooks — five Inas, for crying out loud — and yet so few of my cookbooks are by people of color. It’s an embarrassing state of affairs, one that I’m in the process of remedying; after interviewing Samin Nosrat on Instagram Live, I immediately bought some of her new favorite cookbooks, including Maangi’s Big Book of Korean Cooking and Dishoom by Shamil Thakrar.

But no book as felt more important to me right now than Toni Tipton-Martin’s Jubilee.

This book is both an education and a celebration. Tipton-Martin seeks to explore the history of Black cooking in America, resurrecting recipes from over 400 cookbooks “dating to 1827, with themes that reflect not just Southern cooking or the soul food African Americans are known for and pigeonholed in, but immensely broad culinary interests and recipes.”

Case in point: the Louisiana Red Beans and Rice that I made last week inspired by Louis Armstrong’s favorite dish. Apparently, Louis Armstrong loved the dish so much he was known for the following salutation: “Red beans and ricely yours.”

Traditionally made on Monday, using leftover ham bones from Sunday night’s dinner, I was lucky enough to have a smoked ham hock in my freezer from McCall’s Meat & Fish. Truthfully, I never quite knew what to do with the smoked ham hocks I’d been buying from there; I usually just threw them into a pot of beans and then discarded them. Foolish me! They’re wonderful, once cooked with the beans, chopped up and stirred back in.

Otherwise, the rest of the ingredients are all grocery store staples (including the holy trinity of New Orleans cooking): celery, pepper, onion, plus red kidney beans, garlic, bay leaf, parsley, and green onions.

The resulting dish was both luxurious and clean-tasting. I’ve been making beans all Covid long, and usually I just throw in a whole onion and a head of garlic sliced in half and some other aromatics and let it simmer away; but here, you sauté the vegetables first and then stir them into water with the soaked beans. The result was a revelation, the same way that Jubilee is a revelation.

Make way, Ina. This cookbook shelf has a new star.

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Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

From Toni Tipton-Martin's Jubilee, a comforting stew of kidney beans, vegetables, and — the key ingredient — a smoked ham hock.
Servings 6 people

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbs bacon drippings or vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 small fresh red chile pepper, minced I used a Fresno chile, but I bet a jalapeño would work too
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1 1/2 Tbs minced garlic (5 to 6 cloves)
  • 1 pound dried small red or kidney beans, picked over for stones, rinsed, soaked in water overnight, and drained
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound smoked ham hocks or 1 baked ham bone
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste I used more, a few Tbs
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 cup minced parsley
  • 1/2 cup minced green onions
  • Freshly cooked rice, for serving

Instructions

  • In a skillet, heat the bacon fat over medium-high heat. Add the chile pepper, onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 6 minutes.
  • In a medium pot, combine 8 cups water, the sautéed vegetables, drained beans, bay leaf, and ham hocks. Stir to mix well. (I add a Tbs salt at this point, which is controversial, but I think it helps the beans have more flavor.) Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 2 hours. Season with more salt and pepper and continue to cook until the beans are tender, about 1 hour longer. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
  • Remove the ham hocks or ham bone from the beans to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to remove the meat from the bone and coarsely chop the meat (discard any skin, fat, and bones). Stir the meat, parsley, and green onions into the beans, taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve the beans and ham over hot cooked rice.

Related Recipes:

Brians’ Red Beans & Rice (Amateur Gourmet)

Red Beans and Rice (Simply Recipes)

New Orleans-Style Red Beans and Rice (Serious Eats)

New Orleans Red Beans and Rice (Joy The Baker)

Red Beans and Rice (NYT)