Chef John Besh believes any celebration in Louisiana is centered around food, none more than Mardi Gras. “Each dish, cocktail or beverage has a particular place and meaning,” he said. “When I was growing up, there were no street vendors and my mother and family friends would make the food at home and we’d eat all day. When heading out at sunrise for the parade route, we would grab donuts and King Cake, and bring red beans and rice, the quintessential dish.”
Besh remembers as a child the whole ritual of glancing at the new floats parading down St. Charles Ave., and the event holds a special place in his heart.
“The first Mardi Gras after Katrina sticks in my mind,” he said. “A dear friend of mine is a captain of one of the oldest parades. He showed many of us that Mardi Gras is not just a party, but the crucial glue that bonded our city. That year, there was no place we would have rather been.”
For Besh, the rich smells of coffee, sausages browning in a pot and red beans ready to be served is what brought the spirit of Mardi Gras to him and his family. He offers up his red beans recipe.
Time is the key to making successful red beans: they need to cook slowly and well. Using flavorful fat is another secret. Just as my grandmother did, I keep the fat from every batch of bacon I make, and I save the fat that solidifies on the surface of chilled chicken soup and roast chicken drippings, too. Just a little bit adds big flavor.
2 onions, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 tablespoons rendered bacon fat
1 pound dried red kidney beans
2 smoked ham hocks
3 bay leaves
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 green onions, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cups cooked Basic Louisiana White Rice
1. Sweat the onions, bell peppers, and celery in the rendered bacon fat in a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat.
2. Once the onions become translucent, add the kidney beans, ham hocks, bay leaves, and cayenne, then add water to cover by 2 inches.
3. Increase the heat and bring the water to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and allow the beans to slowly simmer for 2 hours. Periodically stir the beans to make sure that they don’t scorch on the bottom of the pot, adding water if necessary, always keeping the beans covered by an inch or more of water.
4. Continue cooking the beans until they are creamy and beginning to fall apart when they’re stirred.
5. Remove the ham hock meat from the bones, roughly chop it, and add it back to the pot of beans.
6. Stir in the green onions and season with salt, black pepper and Tabasco. Serve with white rice.
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