Cajun/Creole

Red Beans & Rice With a "Secret" Ingredient (That Everybody Knows)

June 11, 2018

Coca-Cola keeps its formula in a locked vault. KFC maintains its mysterious, top-secret 11 herb-and-spice blend by producing half of the recipe in one laboratory, and half in another. And, apparently, only two monks know the exact combination of the 130 herbs that make up Chartreuse.

And then there’s my mom, one of the worst secret-keepers in culinary history. Any time she describes her pièce de résistance—creamy, comforting Creole red beans and rice—she divulges the “secret” ingredient that flavors each addictive spoonful: pickle juice.

Yes, pickle juice. Photo by James Ransom

“It’s not the same if you don’t use it,” my mom insists when describing the completely non-traditional addition. “It makes the entire dish.”

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“My not-so-secret ingredient us ground cinnamon. I add it to my carnitas spice rub. Total game changer! Something about the way it brings out the pork and spices, yummy! Try adding it to your favorite pork spice rub.”
— Vic N.
Comment

Red beans and rice is not really a recipe that begs for innovation. It’s a classic, the O.G. set-it-and-forget-it. For decades, New Orleans families would turn to this one-pot, budget-friendly meal on Mondays (traditional laundry days) because they didn’t have time to think. Just throw everything in and let it simmer.

I’m not even ashamed to say I’ve licked my plate clean before going back for seconds.

My mom learned the base recipe from her own mother, who juggled five children, a full-time job as a special education teacher, and getting dinner on the table every night. But it wasn’t until she was married and living away from New Orleans that she developed her signature twist.

“Momma used leftovers like ham bones and what we called pickled pork,” she says. “One day, I didn’t have pickled pork and decided to substitute with pickle juice. It needed that acidity.”

The sweet-salty brine contrasts with the deep smoky ham and spicy sausage. Instead of a heavy dish that pushes you past full into uncomfortable, my mom’s beans are brighter and lighter. I’m not even ashamed to say I’ve licked my plate clean before going back for seconds.


Check out an equally addictive dip

In addition to a four-hour cook time, my mom mashes the beans to get a creamy, almost soup-like consistency. Rice to red bean ratio is totally subjective; some like a stew while others want just enough to coat their rice. Same goes for hot sauce, although my mom (and I) think it’s gilding the lily.

While the recipe is simple and straightforward, it’s also time-consuming. Now, Mom only makes her red beans and rice for special occasions, like my birthday, Mardi Gras, Christmas, or family reunions. And every time, someone will exclaim that it’s the best red beans and rice they’ve ever had.

"Oh, it’s nothing! It’s just my secret ingredient," she brushes it off, as if she's done talking about it. "You'll never guess. I really shouldn't tell you..."

(Five minutes later.)

"It’s a cup of pickle juice."

Do you have a "secret" ingredient that everyone knows? Sharing is caring in the comments below!

8 Comments

Vic N. June 12, 2018
Your Mom is too cute. And I'm just like her. My not-so-secret ingredient us ground cinnamon. I add it to my carnitas spice rub. Total game changer! Something about the way it brings out the pork and spices, yummy! Try adding it to your favorite pork spice rub.
 
Eric K. June 11, 2018
I'd like this for dinner Monday thru Friday, please. Thanks for the (secret) recipe, Katie's mom.
 
Author Comment
Katie M. June 12, 2018
She says, "You're so welcome!" haha
 
Smaug June 11, 2018
For more on pickled pork, and a recipe (and presumably more on Camellia brand beans) see camellibrands.com.
 
Author Comment
Katie M. June 12, 2018
That's my mom's favorite brand of beans to use 😊
 
Smaug June 12, 2018
I only poked around there for a few minutes, but it looks like a pretty good web site, too- very informative.
 
Hana A. June 11, 2018
Yum, love any beans and rice! Thanks for sharing your mother's version, can't wait to try it!!
 
Author Comment
Katie M. June 11, 2018
😊😊