NOLA – NYTimes Red Beans & Rice

Ah the glory of Red Beans and Rice. It’s simplicity. It’s delicate balance of meaty flavor and spice. How filling. How happy.

And, as it turns out, how bloody hard to get right.

A traditional staple of Monday offerings in New Orleans, as I mentioned in my other NOLA blogs, it is thought to bring good luck for the week to come. The idea (not to mention the wonderful taste) left me completely enamored.

The husband and I always joke that he has the perfect Irish Luck, while I carry only Murphy’s. Truly, when it comes to me, if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. It has been put to the test. No one ever believes me, until they see it in action. With this in mind, you can imagine the idea that a food tradition bringing good luck to the eater has great appeal – after all, I need all the luck I can get.

Planning on making a quintessential NOLA dish and making it are too very different things, as it turns out. Every foodie will agree that different regions have different options on offer as far as groceries go – New England is generally devoid of really good spicy or ethnic food (us being closest to our bland England neighbors), and many times I’ve had to go really out of my way to find what I need to make recipes which I’m desperate to try.

For example – Chorizo. To get really good true handmade chorizo is about an hours drive each way from where I am.

So it is with Red Beans.

After googling, and reading up on the dish, I decided to go with a New York Times Recipe. I read the commentary with little hope that this would get me where I wanted to go, but it was simplest which seemed the best choice for a first attempt.

Plus, look at the picture!

NY Times Red Beans and Rice
Photo borrowed from Kim Severson Recipe

Doesn’t that look divine? So clean, so liquidy, so inviting.

My trip to the grocery store left me at a loss.

First, there were three variations of dried red beans of all sizes, all with the same generic name, all from a company based in the wrong food group. But, with little other option, I settled on Goya small red kidney beans.

Did you know that red beans are not always red inside? I didn’t. Kind of ruins the overall look of the dish.

Second, it says right at the top that “Hand Made Louisiana Andouille Sausage should be used.” Uhhhh What? Well, that’s not happening. Does. Not. Exist. Not in New England.

I did manage to find some Cajun Andouille Sausage, which seemed the closest option – in fact the only option for Andouille sausage as it turns out at stop&shop.

Finally – Ham Hocks. Yea Right. I tried three grocers. We thankfully have a butcher shop up the street from us (I know, I too was surprised that they do still exist around here), but unfortunately in the true tradition of specialty stores it wasn’t open.

A little more research told me that Ham Hocks could be supplemented with 4oz of Smoked Ham or Smoked Bacon. Well, since my recipe was already a disaster I figured what the hell – I used 2oz of each. But not smoked (also really hard to find, wtf New England?).

Now, I admit that at this point you’re probably thinking “well no wonder it didn’t taste right, you haven’t followed any of the directions!” Touché, salesman, I’ll give you that. But in my defense, I’m a firm believer that a recipe’s success is just as much dependent of consistency – mouth feel – as it is taste. I’ve definitely had some things that looked delicious and tasted horrible, and vice versa. So bear with me, and remember this was a warm up attempt for me.

Anyway, buggered ingredients aside, This is what I ended up with:

Now, can you spot the major difference? I’ll give you a hint: Where’s the liquid?!?!

I added an absurd amount of water throughout to try and keep it from drying out. I even added a cup of chicken stock hoping that might keep a bit better. And yet still – no liquid. It all got sucked up by those blasted beans in seconds. W. T. F.

I did the mashing thing for a “creamier texture” as explained, and instead got a greyish-white color and even less liquid for the effort.

My second complaint is that, well, it was a bit bland. The only flavoring was smoke from the meat, sage, basil, and cayenne pepper – which sounds like it could be enough, but in such small quantities I couldn’t even tell whether they were added. I ended up splashing a bunch of hot sauce into it just to give it a kick. It struck me as rather strange that there wasn’t more spices, and nothing to say of traditional cajun seasoning.

I wasn’t the only one surprised at the bizarre lack of spice – and the spices chosen seemed out of place to more than one person (basil??).

Looking at the picture from the NY Times now, I realize that the expected outcome really doesn’t look anything like what they might serve in NOLA. But then again, it is New York Cooking, and in true Northeast tradition, that means bland (seriously, why do we have no idea how to flavor our food? How British).

It does however certainly look like something that one might find in the Northeast, so in that respect they got the recipe spot. on. And it was certainly tasty, although let’s be honest, you must be really bad at cooking to mess up beans.

I gave a dish to one of my friends visiting who is also a great fan of NOLA nourishments, and he agreed – tasty, but not really what you’re looking for with this traditional southern dish.

So: final conclusion. A very Northeast version of a very southern dish, dressed down for our delicate palettes. Hearty, simple, easy, and good – but off mark. Called anything else and it might be worthwhile, but don’t make it and expect all the love and soul that you would find served in the south.

Will probably not make this one again.


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