Rockstar and Red Beans

Just a quick note to let you all know that I had my 3 month follow-up with Alla on Friday, and I’m still a rockstar. I rock so hard, my RBCs broke in the tube and they had to redraw my blood. Everything’s all good (i.e. still cancer-free), and the whole visit was not even worthy of a full blog post. Instead, today, I bring you a guest post by New Orleans native, savant, and Loyola University NOLA professor, C.W. Cannon. He happens to be my friend, Laura’s husband, and he made this dish for us when we visited with them over spring break. Originally published in the book Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans? from Chin Music Press in 2006, he has graciously allowed me to share the entry here, in its entirety.

Laura’s Red Beans

My Louisiana vernacular cuisine stylings faced a major challenge in 2000, when I married a Jewish girl. Many New Orleanian Jews freely ignore the Torah’s famous dietary restrictions, but not my wife – no shrimp po’ boys, no oysters and no pork seasoning, which poses a major problem for the vast majority of vernacular Southern dishes. How to approximate the seemingly irreplaceable salt-essence of the liberally butchered Southland hog? My mom used to make what she called “Texas Red Beans,” seasoned with beef stew, but while it tastes great, it tastes too different, too Texas. After many trials, I found the kosher-style approach with the closest taste to old style hamhock, slat-port or pig-tail-stewed mama-made red beans and rice. The secret is a combo of chicken broth and turkey tasso (Richard’s and Savoie’s both make it) or, if you can’t find that, a smoked turkey leg or neck. The kitchen should be floored in linoleum. If linoleum isn’t available, just play the right music and knock on wood a lot. Should be served on Mondays or for any big party or event where you want a big pot of something.

1 pound red beans
1 medium white onion
1 medium bell pepper
2 long stalks celery
1 clove garlic (or however much you want)
1/2 lb. turkey tasso (or 1 medium smoked turkey leg)
6 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon parsley
3 large bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon each white, red, black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
salt, your call (Southerners, Louisiana included, use at least double the amount other folks do)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/2 or 2 cups Louisiana rice

Soak beans overnight or at least for a couple of hours. Drain and add to chicken broth. Bring to a boil, adding however much water you need to keep liquid about a half-inch over the beans, allowing the mixture to thicken without becoming thick enough to stick. Add finely chopped onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic and coarsely chopped tasso (or just toss the bird leg in there). Add herbs and olive oil (the oil protects from sticking and contributes tot he creamy texture). After mixture comes to a rolling boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for three hours. Stir and taste frequently. Start drinking your beer or wine during the tasting process so you can get a sense of what your guests will taste while dining. After a bout two or two-and-a-half hours of cooking, take a flat spoon and smash some of the beans along the side of the pot – this is what gives Creole-style red beans the distinctive creamy texture. Serve with plain boiled Louisiana white rice, French bread (baguette) and butter, and a bottle of Tabasco or other Louisiana hot sauce on the table.

 –  C.W. Cannon

Red beans, cooking on the stove. Wow, did this make the whole house smell amaze-balls!
Red beans, cooking on the stove. Wow, did this make the whole house smell amaze-balls!

Now, I happen to not keep kosher, and amazingly, I was able to find actual tasso ham at Hofherr Meat Co., in Northfield – not too far from me. I decided I’d go whole hog with the authenticity (see what I did there?) to make these for the Bears first game of the season. The only adjustment I’d need to make, according to C.W., is to use a bit less salt, because of the salt already present in the tasso ham. So, I just did the taste as I went along thing and it worked out great. I ended up using about 1 teaspoon  of salt, but your taste may vary. A couple of other clarifications for us northerners… I used plain ol’ extra long grain white rice and light olive oil. Serve with a quality Pinot Noir or, if you’re on a budget, Bogle Essential Red. Or, Hubs, the beer snob, recommends an American Pale Ale.

ZOMG! Soooo good! With the first bite, I was immediately transported back to Laura and C.W.'s kitchen in NOLA!
ZOMG! Soooo good! With the first bite, I was immediately transported back to Laura and C.W.’s kitchen in NOLA!

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