In Captain Peter’s home town of New Orleans, this staple dish is made on Mondays, or “wash day,” because you put the pot of beans on the stove to simmer and when you are done with your day of toiling in the laundry, dinner is ready. This may date back to an era of hand wash with washboards, but it persists…when we were moving into our new home in Mandeville, Louisiana, across the lake from New Orleans, two weeks ago, our new neighbor brought us a glorious bowl of red beans with Andouille sausage and cornbread waffles on Monday night after we closed the purchase of the house.
Yes, you heard that right…Captain Peter, Pirate Kristin, Eddy the Swab Dog and Upward Wing will be moving south, leaving the Chesapeake to go home to the bayou. Family Weaver will move south in July, followed by the boat in November after hurricane season, in an epic sail to the Bahamas to start. Until then, we will report to Galley Pirates from whatever galleys we can commandeer at the Pontchartrain Yacht Club! You can take the boy away from the beans, but not the beans away from the boy…or something like that.
Start with your vegetables: two medium white onions, two bunches of scallions, four stalks of celery with as many leaves as you can get, and six large cloves of garlic.
Chop these all up. New Orleans traditional cuisine has a wonderful sense of “seasoning.” In Peter’s family recipe, this mound of greens is referred to as “seasoning.”
Rinse a pound of dried kidney beans in a colander or several bowls of cold water and pick them over for any small stones or really badly spoiled looking beans. Cover with cold water and let the beans stand for a few minutes while you get the “seasoning” ready.
In your best soup pot (we opted for the pressure cooker, though not using the pressure feature this go around), melt a stick of butter (1/2 cup) and sautee the vegetables.
While they soften over medium high heat for 5-7 minutes, dice a pound or so (I went with a pound and a half to make this a solid meal) of ham. Again with the Cajun sense of proportion…the first time I went grocery shopping for the ingredients for this dish, I read Peter’s recipe, and it called for a pound of “seasoning ham” … unaware of this particular cut or cure, I called him to find out what that was. He explained it was ham…used as “seasoning” — which would allow you to NOT call this a solid meal, but a side dish to be served with, say, Andouille sausage.
Add the ham to the vegetables, give them a good stir, then add a teaspoon of dried thyme, a half-teaspoon of dried oregano, a good sized bay leaf, quarter-teaspoon cayenne pepper, half-teaspoon black pepper, three hefty dashes of your chosen hot sauce (Tabasco or Crystal) and a hefty dash of Worcestershire sauce. Give this a good stir and sautee for a few minutes longer. By the way — do NOT add any salt to this point. Not only will it toughen the beans, but the ham has a lot of salt — it is worth waiting until the end to taste first.
The list of secondary, dried seasonings above reminded me to ask if you have one of these — it is a single measuring spoon that does it all from 1/2 teaspoon to multi-tablespoons. You move the little rubber slider up the to marked amount that you want, and it pushes a metal wall along the bowl of the spoon to create a space of that amount. Space being at a premium in a galley (or many apartment kitchens), gadgets like this are great.
Add two quarts of cold water, and the beans. It’s important to add the cold beans to cold water as a big temperature change will also make them toughen.
Give this a good stir — adding water to bring the level well above the solids if it isn’t already. Bring to a low boil and then reduce the heat to low, put a lid partially on the pot, and set to simmer for 4 or 5 hours.
If you don’t have wash to do during this time, how about heading over to Bacon’s Marine Supply to see if they have anything on consignment that you need, like a great old pair of heavy-duty winches on bronze mounting blocks that would make really great cocktail table pedestals for the ships wheels you want to mount? Yeah…we’ll let you know how that project turns out. Captain not sold on $200 per pedestal…yet.
At the end of 4-5 hours, remove the bay leaf if it’s floating conveniently at the top, and if you are serving guests who you don’t want to have find it the hard and rude way.
Use the back of your wooden spoon to mash some of the beans against the side of the pot to increase the creaminess. You can even take a cup or so of beans out and puree them and add them back, but this no-additional-dish-dirtying method works fine for us.
Tonight we took our pot of beans to share with friends; I had to stop and get a picture of the beautiful mouth of the creek and out into the bay…spring is a seriously tantalizing thing for Mid-Atlantic sailors!
Serve over rice (I prefer brown rice for the hearty, nuttiness with the beans…I’ll have to see if that is verboten in New Orleans), with salt and additional hot sauce to taste, and look forward to leftovers tomorrow!