My dad is obsessed with acronyms. Growing up as a military brat, Dad was surrounded by abbreviations, and the military’s mandatory immersion turned into Dad’s obsession as he got older. As a kid, I would often go to the P.O. with Dad to get the mail, P.T. and T.P. were regular items on the grocery list, P.B.J. was a common after-school snack, and a regular dinner around our mess hall, err, house, was R.B.R. – or to civilians, red beans and rice.
Mom has made R.B.R. for as long as I can remember; a slightly soupy mixture of beans, peppers, onion and sausage served over a bed of steaming white rice. The good thing about R.B.R. is that it’s a kitchen sink dish – you can add a little of this and a little of that, and it always seems to come out good. It’s also versatile enough to be a favorite of vegetarians or, ahem, sausagetarians.
I watched mom make R.B.R. time and time again, but as I grew older and eventually moved out of the house, my version of the recipe changed with my hair color. I went through a black-beans-only phase, a vegetarian phase, a kielbasa phase, a kidney-bean-only phase (until Hubs eventually told me – very, very gently – that he doesn’t even like kidney beans). Now my recipe has leveled off, along with my hair color, and I think I’ve finally perfected it.
I will say that I didn’t conquer the perfection of this recipe alone; I had a little help from a loud, obnoxious, ever-sweaty Cajun chef who encourages people to applaud garlic, who makes startling noises when he adds ingredients, and whose name rhymes with… Well, I don’t know what the hell Emeril rhymes with. But anyway, leaving judgment and opinions behind, Emeril seems to know what he’s talking about when it comes to Cajun food. Can we at least agree on that?
The base of this dish is what’s referred to in Cajun cooking as the holy trinity: celery, onion and bell pepper. The holy trinity is the foundation for a number of other Cajun dishes, like étouffée, jambalaya and gumbo. I am just now realizing that many Cajun dishes sound more like Lion King characters and less like actual food.
To the holy trinity you add some aromatics, like garlic, thyme, cayenne and bay leaves, to heighten the flavor, which mix and mingle for a while, before adding the big guns, like the beans and the sausage. But this is where Emeril and I part ways: you see, I have a secret ingredient in my R.B.R. that is absolutely, positively crucial to the flavor and texture of the dish. Again, I’m asking you to set aside your judgment and your opinions, close your eyes, and stick out your hand.
I know. I know! I hear you now: “KETCHUP? Is she completely bonkers? Is she out of her gourd? Does she sing along with Garrison Keillor – god help him and his cacophonous nose breathing – when sings off-key about the Ketchup Advisory Board?” No, no, and GAWD no! Trust me here, folks. Ketchup brings just a hint of tomato-y flavor and a thicker, richer texture to the sauce. It’s just a smidge. No harm done. I promise.
I’ll bring this to a close by saying that R.B.R. is a perfect dish to have on a cool September night, when the temperature outside is teasing you with the idea that fall is just around the corner. It’s warming, it’s hearty and it’s perfect for leftovers the next night. Now, back to the real issue, Garrison’s nose breathing: Oh, the humanity! Enjoy!
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Red Beans & Rice
1 pound andouille sausage, sliced 1/4″ thick
1/2 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. chopped red bell pepper
1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp. chopped garlic
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tbs. chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
2 c. chicken stock
2 cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 c. ketchup
olive oil, salt and pepper
cooked rice for serving
Cook about 1 1/2 cups of rice according to package instructions and set aside.
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, fry the sliced sausage until browned on both sides, about 8 minutes. Remove the sausage from the pan and set aside. Reserve any fat left in the pan.
Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the reserved fat in the pan, and heat the pan over medium heat. Add the celery, onion and red bell pepper, and sweat the vegetables until they begin to soften, about 7 minutes. Add the thyme, garlic, cayenne, parsley and bay leaves, and cook about a minute more. Add the chicken stock, pinto beans, fried sausage and ketchup, and increase the heat to medium high to bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook for about half an hour, until the flavors have mingled. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve over the cooked rice.
* If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this recipe on Flickr.
Laura is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville, but has recently moved to Boulder, Colorado. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, see her Flyer Foodie author page. For more cooking, recipes, and other food-related inspiration, visit Flyer Foodie on Facebook.