When I was a kid, my school cafeteria served red beans with sausage every Monday. I wasn’t crazy about the beans, but to this day I have a weakness for the sort of sausage that, like laws, one would probably not want to see being made.
I am a student of cooking, and I could almost certainly produce at least a half-dozen recipes for any number of dishes from the classic French to more exotic fare. But for decades my go-to method for making red beans was to glance at the instructions on the cellophane-wrapped package of Camellia beans and then play it by ear. Usually that worked out pretty well, because beans are forgiving, but now and then it took longer than anticipated and sometimes I messed up the proportion of beans, meat and vegetables.
Earlier this week I believe I hit on a recipe that I will henceforth use exclusively. The beans that resulted were about the best I’ve ever tasted, and if you know me you know I don’t ordinarily brag about my own cooking. I am comfortable with that assertion in this case because the “secret” to these beans is pork fat and a lot of it.
The basics are the same: 4 cups or so of dried beans, 2 cups or so of diced trinity (2-1-1 onion, celery and bell pepper) and a couple of cloves of garlic. I start the beans alone, and saute the trinity in the fat rendered from 2-3 strips of bacon. (Hold on to the bacon)
I have had good luck finding pork belly at Rouse’s and Whole Foods lately, and I rationalize eating it despite my high cholesterol because I do actually eat mostly vegetables and because I am 49 and would rather enjoy my remaining decades above the ground than worry about high cholesterol when I am otherwise pretty healthy.
My point is that in addition to sausage and bacon I add pork belly to my beans. I do so because pork belly is awesome and because it reminds me of eating slab bacon with many of the vegetables my grandmother cooked. I know it is not haute cuisine, but damn I love boiled bacon.
When you cook all of these things together for a long time on low heat the pork fat melts into the beans as they disintegrate and it’s the closest thing to magic I pull off in the kitchen. Yes I add fresh thyme and celery leaves at the end of the cooking and yes I also throw in a fresh bay leaf at the start, but in the end the only seasoning that’s essential is salt and perhaps a vinegar-based hot sauce at the table.
I have not written down a recipe as such, and that’s intentional. If you really need one, check the back of the package that held your beans, then add pork belly.
I’d be interested to hear how you make beans, red or otherwise – pickle meat? Smoked versus Andouille? Vegan? Leave a comment or shoot me an email for Pete’s sake.