In New Orleans and the rest of French Louisiana, Monday is traditionally laundry day and the day for making red beans and rice. It is said that in the old days a kettle of beans would share the fire with the pot of hot water for washing clothes. Today both laundry and cooking are far simpler but this is still a great dish to have simmering on the back burner of the stove as you do other things around the house.
Incidentally, this recipe makes a big pot of beans—enough for eight people. Even if your family is a lot smaller, go ahead and make the full recipe. The beans keep well for a few days in the refrigerator and can be kept frozen for several months. Like most beans, they are actually better after having cooled and been reheated. Make the rice fresh each time, though.
1 pound dry small red beans, pinto beans would be a reasonable substitute but don’t use kidney beans
1 pound Andouille sausage, ham, or a combination of both (If Andouille is not available use a spicy smoked pork sausage such as chourico but not Italian sausage)
1 large or two medium onions, about 8 ounces, chopped
1 stalk celery, about 4 ounces, chopped
1 bell pepper, about 4 ounces, seeded and chopped
1 cayenne pepper finely chopped or ½ tsp. cayenne powder to taste
Neutral cooking oil, e.g. Canola, and/or unsalted butter or lard
3 Tbsp. chopped garlic, for this quantity I often use pre-chopped from a jar
1 tsp. dried thyme
4 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Long-grain white rice to serve
Rinse the beans and pick out any small stones or other debris. Soak in cold water for an hour or two (you can skip this step if you wish). Put the beans into a pressure cooker, cover with water by 1 inch, and cook at 15 psi for 20 minutes after weight starts to jiggle. Cool according to manufacturers instructions. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker or prefer not to use one, simply double the duration of the first cooking of the beans.)
Cut the sausage crosswise into ¼-inch slices and dice the ham, if using. If the sausage you are using is somewhat fatty, render it in a separate skillet to remove some of the grease.
In an enameled Dutch oven heat about 2 Tbsp. of the cooking fat of your choice. Add the onions, celery, and pepper. Sweat over medium-low heat until the vegetables begin to express their water and their colors become intense, about 5 minutes. Add the ham and/or sausage, garlic, and herbs. Cook for a further 5 minutes. Put in the beans and their cooking liquid if you pre-cooked them in a pressure cooker. Otherwise, just add the soaked beans. Cover with water by ½-inch (1-inch for uncooked beans), bring to a boil, and simmer, uncovered for 1 hour (2 for uncooked beans). Add a bit of water if the beans start to dry out.
When the beans are soft, remove about 1½ cups of them to a bowl and mash with the back of a large spoon. Stir back into the rest of the beans. Continue simmering for another 1½ hours stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. When the beans start to stick to bottom of the pot they are ready. Check the seasoning and adjust accordingly. The beans should be soft and creamy but not soupy. Serve over plain white rice.