May 042014
 

I find the concept of terroir fascinating. It’s a set of characteristics about where a food was grown or produced that affects the way it tastes. This concept is used a lot in wine and it refers to the special characteristics of a region’s soil, water, micro-climate, etc. that make it impossible to reproduce. You can’t just dig up a grape plant from France, plunk it down in Ohio, and expect it to taste the same. You also see this idea in cheeses from pasture-fed animals (as special characteristics of the place’s grace ultimately affect the cheese’s taste) or wild-yeast breads (as many strains of lactobacillus are regional and unique in flavor), or from man-made sources such as the bagels in New York City (whose special flavor is rumored to come from the water’s pipes).

This dish has absolutely nothing to do with that. But I have to admit that this recipe has a special terrior in my memory. Though this is a distinctly regional dish, it really has nothing to do with the more conventional definition. It’s difficult to explain, but whenever I cook this or eat it, I’m transported to specific points in space and time in my memory. I remember fun times with my friend Adrienne and the great pride that she has in this wonderful family recipe. I’ve been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of this dish from her several times and can remember with searing detail so much of those meals. And, fortunately for me, I was able to peer over her shoulder one day as she cooked it and she showed me what she meant when she said “cook it until it looks right.” Adrienne is one of those people who understands the transformative power of a good meal shared with the right company and the power of such food to cement an experience in your mind and the ability of it to transport you back in a split-second — its mental terrior, as I’ve clumsily attempted to explain. And even if this recipe isn’t tightly moored in wonderful and happy parts of your brain as mine is, I think you’ll find that this is most definitely some good eats.

Sittie's red beans and rice

Sittie’s Red Beans & Rice
By Ethel Haik, generously shared with me by her granddaughter Adrienne
Serves 6-8

Notes:

  • If you want to use andouille sausage in the recipe (as I like to do because I have a really good charcuterie company semi-local to me), Adrienne insists that one ought to add some smoked ham to the recipe. I concede that she has a point, though I think that the unit “some” means “until it tastes right.” Yes, it’s that kind of recipe and I love it for that!
  • If you are going to freeze this, do not mix in the rice. Make a batch of rice fresh for your defrosted feast.

You will need:

  • 1 pound red kidney beans or small red beans like Sangre de Toro, soaked overnight (retain soaking water)
  • 1 pound smoked sausage (I favor andouille, so Adrienne and I must agree to disagree), sliced into medallions or medallion halves
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2-3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Tony Chacherie’s or Zatarain’s Creole Seasoning (no-salt-added versions are available, or you can make your own from numerous recipes on the internet)

To prepare:

  1. Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add onions, celery, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables are soft and fragrant.
  2. Add garlic and sausage. Cook, stirring, until sausage is lightly browned. Wait until the mixture looks “right” (which can best be described by saying the ingredients in the pot look as though they’re beginning to melt and shimmer together) before proceeding to the next step.
  3. Add beans and soaking water (add more water if needed, bringing water level high enough so the beans are floating). Bring to a boil, then back down to a simmer.
  4. Sprinkle your creole seasoning evenly over the top (it should be a uniform orange color) and mix it in. Simmer, covered, for 2-3 hours or until beans are very soft (may take less time if you’re using beans from a source like Rancho Gordo).
  5. Remove 1/4 – 1/2 of the beans and smash or whirl through blender and return to pot. Simmer for an additional 30-60 minutes uncovered or until beans are thick. Serve over rice (whole-grain pilaf is fine) or cornbread or both.

To make in the Instant Pot:

  • As above, but barely cover the beans with water. Use the bean program for 40 minutes. Natural pressure release. Remove lid and put in about 2 cups rice. Cook on the rice program.

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