Friday, August 16, 2013

Red Beans & Rice (with Rib Tips)

When I worked in Louisiana (just outside of New Orleans) we used to have lunch at Laverne's Soul Food Cafe.  Laverne never had menus; she just wrote, in huge letters on a big chalkboard, what she cooked on a particular day.  If you walked in and liked what you saw; "Chicken and Sausage Gumbo," or "Crawfish Etouffee," etc, you sat down at the long table and you placed a $5 bill in front of you.  Laverne would walk by and take your money, then put down a plate and dish you out a portion.  If you cleaned your plate, you could flip it over and she would give you a slice of pie on the clean side!  You had to clean your plate first, though... there were no exceptions.  I do miss Laverne!

My favorite dish from Laverne was her Red Beans & Rice with Rib Tips.  I've tried to replicate it over the years and I think I'm really close.  Have a look!

You will need:
  • 2 Bell Peppers (diced)
  • 1 Large Yellow Onion (diced)
  • 3 Stalks of Celery (diced)
  • 2 Fresh Jalapeno Peppers (diced)
  • 1 Leftover Ham Bone (if you have one)
  • 1 Dozen Rib Tips, or hunks of salt pork, bacon ends, or a few ham-hocks
  • 1lb Dry Red Kidney Beans (Not canned.  Canned beans are gross.)
  • 2 Tbsp Cayenne Pepper Hot Sauce
  • Your favorite Cajun Seasoning (I like Tony Chachere's)
  • Fresh Ground Pepper
  • Filet Gumbo (not necessary, but good if you got it)
  • 1/2 Gallon Chicken Stock
  • 1/2 Head of Garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • Lots of cooked rice
Break out your best 7 quart (or bigger) dutch oven or stock pot.  Dump in a big glop of decent Olive Oil and heat it up over Medium High heat.  When it's shimmering, add the Bell Peppers, Celery, and Onion (Cajuns call this base mix, "The Trinity").  Saute this mix, stirring often, until the celery is tender and the onions are translucent.  Season well with Cajun Seasoning and Pepper.  Seasoning mixes usually carry enough salt, so use your judgement on adding additional salt at this time.  I wait until the end to make adjustments.

Once the Trinity is well on it's way, add the Jalapeno and Garlic.  Avert your eyes when you stir it in or you may get slightly "maced!"  :)  Stir to wake up the aroma for a minute or two, your kitchen should really start to smell great at this point. 

Consider the humble rib tip.  Some stores sell rib tips but if they don't you can easily get your own, trimmed from a full slab of St. Louis style ribs.  They don't come from baby-back ribs.  I had recently cooked a 3-pack of ribs that I'd purchased from Sam's Club, and I had several strips of rib tips and other trimmings from that event.  If you can't get your hands on rib tips, you want to look for some ping-pong ball sized hunks of pork.  You can use chunks of leftover ham, salt pork, unsliced bacon ends, or even some ham hocks if you like them.  This recipe makes 8 servings so you'll want enough meat to portion x8. 

Add your pork to the pot and stir.  Cook them with the vegetables for 5 minutes or so, stirring, so the pieces get a light brown crust on them, and they start to turn white. 

Then, add 1/2 gallon of Chicken Stock, bump the heat to HIGH and wait for it to boil. 

While you're waiting, look around to see if you have a leftover ham bone, chuck it into the pot.  Where, on earth, do you get a ham bone like this??  From smoking a whole bone-in ham, of course.  It won't be the end of the world if you don't have one, but HOOO, Boyo, it's better if you do!

Now, let's consider the beans for a moment.  At this point, you're probably thinking, "There is no way this small 1lb bag of kidney beans is going to be enough to be the "star" of this dish.  I should get another bag!  Don't get another bag.  Trust me, 1lb is enough.  Sort them before you add them to the pot though.  Many is the bag 'o beans that has a bean-shaped rock or two in it.  I've seen rocks that are exactly bean shaped that even have a lovely red bean-colored hue.  Get these OUT of your bean pile or you'll be sending someone to the Dentist!

Is your pot boiling yet?  If so, dump in the beans! Also, dump in your hot sauce, and liberally shake on some Filet Gumbo if you have some.  Give the pot a final stir, reduce the heat so a "strong simmer" and lid her up.  Simmer this goodness for two hours, stirring every 1/2 hour or so.  Really get in there and stir it!  Don't be afraid of crushing any beans, the additional starch they release will help thicken the gravy.  I have no idea how that jar of Whisky got into the picture, but it's a good idea to have a snort or two during the simmer.  There's nothing quite like the food breeze of a big pot of beans and Whisky!  After two hours, taste a few of the beans.  They should be soft enough for you to crush with your tongue against the roof of your mouth, but just barely.

When they're done, pull out the ham bone and ladle a big 'ol portion of beans and rib tips over a bowl of rice.  It will be thicker than soup, but will carry an amazing broth!  The bowl pictured here has an extra rib tip (or two) in it and was specially prepared for the cook (along with another snort of Whisky).  The rib bones inside are each about an inch long; don't eat them!  I line them up on the plate, away from the dogs...

I'd like to think Laverne would be proud of this dish.  I imagine her looking over my shoulder and giving me a big hug, over a glass of Whisky.  I only wish she was here to bring pie...

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