May 17, 2010 by skwishface
Sometimes in life, you just need a bowl of something hot. Something spicy. Something full of flavor and protein and starch and dairy and the occasional vegetable. A meal in a bowl. Sometimes you need that.
And sometimes, you need to feed that to about a dozen people, some of whom are very young.
Could I say “some” and “times” a bit more? Clearly I’m overstocked on those words and I need to move some linguical inventory.
Anyway, times are tough and we all need to scrape together some savings where we can. (ha! two more!) But if you’re like me, then you’ve got a house full of fairly serious eaters who need to be fed hot delicious food more often than you feel like cooking it. So you cook for leftovers, you cook for a crowd, and you cook with one eye on the price tag.
Enter the red beans n’ rice. It makes good things happen.
Red Beans n’ Rice (cost: about $10, servings: a dozen generous portions)
2 pounds smoked sausage
2 large cans dark red kidney beans
1 whole bell pepper, diced
1 whole red onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 quarts water (or chicken stock)
3-4 tablespoons Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
1 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
2 cups long grain white rice
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
The seasoning amounts are all “to taste”. To be honest, I probably ended up using alot more cumin than that, because I cook in a constant cycle of taste, re-season, taste, re-season. There’s an emotionally scarring backstory there, involving inedibly salty garlic toast and alfredo sauce so bland it might as well have not been there. Let’s not get into it, lest I weep. Suffice it to say, I learned my lesson, and now I taste early, taste often.
We begin! The veggies!
This meager offering of essential vitamins and digestion-friendly roughage is the only ally that the red beans will have to balance out the heaps and piles of sausage in this dish. So if you’re serving this to people like my The Husband, you’ll want to hack these darlings up quite small.
How small? Well …
Toss your ittle-bitty veggie bits into a pot with some olive oil, pepper, and a smidge of salt. Don’t want to use too much salt at this point, because the Tony Chachere’s seasoning we’ll be pouring in by the bucketfull later is plenty salty.
Let those hang out over medium heat for a bit. Since they’re chopped pretty tiny, they’ll cook up fast.
In the meantime, consider your sausage choices. Or rather, consider my sausage choices.
Turkey sausage because it’s a healthier choice, and it’s natural flavorlessness will be subsumed in the sea of flavor we’ll be bathing it in. And Elgin pork sausage because it was on sale and I live in Central Texas. I would be a fool and a traitor not to use Elgin sausage. Also, pork sausage is full of delicious delicious fat.
Liberate the sausage from the packaging and slice it up real quick-like into rounds.
This is the beauty of smoked sausage – it’s already pretty much cooked. All we’re doing is making it bite-sized and searing it and rendering out its delicious delicious fat and simmering it in a magical elixir of herbs and spices. It’s like we’re not even cooking at all!
Before we introduce the sausagey goodness to the veggie goodness, I would like to introduce you to my friend Tony.
I always have this stuff in stock. Get the super big can, and it’ll last you a good long while. It’s super versatile, basically good for anything you might want a spicy salty seasoning for. Particularly tasty on popcorn, with butter and perhaps a dash of lemon juice. No lie.
Anyway, dump all the sausage and all the seasonings into the pot with the veggies. Toss ’em around a bit and crank up the heat to about medium-high so the sausage can start doing its sweet funky.
There will be hissing. Sizzling. General sausage-is-cooking noises. Also smells. Ooooh lawdy the smells. It’s at this stage that vultures (aka – anyone in your house with a working nose) will start lurking around the kitchen, waiting for you to glance away from the pot for the split-second it takes for them to snage a piece of sausage.
There’s a real vulture problem in my house.
After about 5-10 minutes, once the sausage starts to get that slightly fried-ish look, add in just enough liquid to cover the sausage. Ideally, you would use chicken stock for this. But if you’re lame like me, you don’t have chicken stock. So you use water and it works just as well.
Bring that whole big mess up to a boil, then drop the heat down to medium-low-low, put a lid on it, and let it sit for about 30 minutes. This would be a good time to taste the broth (and maybe a slice of sausage) and add seasoning as you see fit.
This would also be a good time to make the rice. I have no photos and no clever helpful hints for rice making. There are instructions on the bag, I follow those instructions. Sometimes it works and sometimes I get a gummy weird nightmare. I have tried – oh, have I tried – to make good rice consistently. Many resources have been explored, such as online “perfect rice” recipes and experimentation with different kinds of rice. All that I’ve learned is that I prefer Jasmine rice to regular old plain white rice. And that maybe I should invest in one of these.
Because what my tiny kitchen needs is another appliance taking up counter space. Sigh!
Moving on. As the end of the 30 minutes draws near, crack open your ginormous cans of red beans.
Drain off as much of the weird starchy beanwater as you can. Unless you’re into that sort of thing. I’m not here to judge you.
Then dump the whole lot into the sausagey brothy stuff.
You don’t want to add the beans in any earlier in the simmering process, lest they disintegrate. I’ve done this, and please believe me when I tell you the result is both sad and unsettling. The skins of beans don’t fall apart, they just burst and all the bean guts melt into the broth so you’re left with dozens of floating empty bean skins and oh god why am I still describing this.
Stir it all together and let it simmer for about 10, maybe 15 minutes. Just long enough to get the beans workin’ with the whole flavorful party.
Now it’s time to serve up the grub! Opinions vary as to the best way to do this. The Husband likes his with as little broth as possible, and a generous handful of cheese melted and mixed in. My bowl is usually about like this:
It’s very customizable, so I recommend letting everyone just dish it up for themselves. Unless, of course, you’re serving this to rather young children, in which case you might want to go ahead and assemble their plates for them.
Hearty, moderately healthy, family-friendly, bountiful, and cheap. What’s not to love about this dish?