Allowing for size and history, New Orleans celebrates more than its fair share of culinary traditions, many of them tied to south Louisiana's seasonal bounty. We crave the plump, salty oysters of winter; hot crawfish and perfect tomatoes come springtime. and we survive the summer with decadent lumps of crabmeat. We've got king cakes during Carnival season, spirit-sustaining gumbo when the north winds howl, and cooling snowballs and frozen daiquiris before autumn's first cold front arrives sometime after Thanksgiving. Other dishes in the New Orleans pantheon have no off-season, feeding hungry locals year-round with hearty, sustaining goodness that forms the cornerstone of the Crescent City's workaday food culture. Red beans and rice, our traditional Monday repast, represents one of the city's ever-present weekly menu options. Historically tied to pre-modern domestic routines—when "laundry day" meant washboard work and a trip to the river—red beans and rice developed as a hearty, low-maintenance meal that simmered slowly over a banked fire, often flavored with hambone from the previous Sunday's sit-down supper.
Done right, red beans and rice is a bowl of comforting, sustaining goodness that takes the edge off the always-premature demise of a good weekend. Long-cooked and creamy, properly made red beans integrate the core flavors of the south Louisiana aromatic trinity—onion, green bell pepper, and celery—along with the savory richness of pork and a kick of garlic for fun.
But the true star of this dish is the beans, and in this case, it’s Camellia beans
. Since the 1920s, New Orleans cooks have been partial to Camellia beans for two reasons—consistency and flavor. The New Orleans–based company has its own tradition of extreme pickiness when it comes to quality. (Their family benchmark, the "Hayward standard," is more stringent than the USDA's highest grade.) Traditionally a local secret, Camellias are now available across the country and through Amazon
. And before you ask, yes, it's always good to soak dried beans before cooking. Not for texture or flavor, necessarily, but for consistency. Cooking time for dried beans can vary, while their soaked counterparts usually cook evenly. Also: NOBODY likes crunchy legumes.
My tool of choice for everyday bean cookery is usually a stovetop pressure cooker—the perfect tool for my busy weekly routine. But for this recipe, I’ve relied on the convenience of the Instant Pot
to cook the beans so that I can get a head start while I prep the rest of the recipe. Slow-cooked red beans spend a lot of time in the pot, and usually develop a creamy consistency as individual beans burst and release their inner starchiness to the cooking liquid. The result is a distinct gravy-like texture that marks true New Orleans red beans. If you cook with a quicker method, you can get the same texture by giving the cooked beans a quick hit with an old-school potato masher or decidedly more contemporary immersion blender. Not too long—just enough to thicken everything up. Then, just spoon it over some hot cooked rice, and turn up the hot sauce until it’s spiked to your liking.