Make Ahead

Mom's New Orleans Red Beans & Rice

January 18, 2022
4.3 Stars
Photo by James Ransom
Author Notes

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.

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

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.

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.

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." —Katie Macdonald

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: 17 Fall Slow-Cooker Recipes to Curl Up With. —The Editors

  • Prep time 1 hour
  • Cook time 4 hours
  • Serves 9 to 12
Ingredients
  • Red Beans
  • 1 pound red kidney beans (my mom uses Camellia beans)
  • 1 pound smoked ham, cut into cubes (look for this in the meat section, sometimes called "pickled pork," but it won't have a bone with it)
  • 1 pound Zatarain's Andouille Smoked Sausage, sliced into ½-inch coins
  • 1 smoked ham bone with meat (many stores will sell ham bones with some meat on them; ham bone will greatly improve the taste of the red beans)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1/2 bell pepper, seeded, chopped
  • 1 cup dill or sweet pickle juice
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Cavender's Greek Seasoning
  • 5 to 8 bay leaves
  • Rice
  • 1 cup long-grain brown rice
  • 1 splash olive oil
  • 1 pinch sea salt
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Red Beans
  2. Into a large heavy pot, pour the beans, removing any dirt. Wash the beans by rinsing in water, then discard the water. Add fresh water to the cleaned beans to cover by about 2 inches.
  3. Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 1 hour, until the beans are softened. Remove from the heat.
  4. Add the smoked ham, sausage, ham bone, onion, celery, bell pepper, pickle juice, garlic, seasoning, and bay leaves. Pour in enough water to cover by about 1 inch.
  5. Return to a boil, then immediately bring to a low simmer. It may take 3 to 4 hours for the beans to be ready to eat. The longer you simmer, the creamier they will get. Stir the beans regularly so they don't burn.
  6. Slow-cooker variation: If you boil the beans first, put them in a slow cooker with the other ingredient. Cook on low, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, for 8 hours.
  7. Do Ahead: The beans can be made 4 months ahead. Store in an airtight container and freeze.
  1. Rice
  2. In a medium pot, combine the rice, oil, salt, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the rice is cooked through.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Tamarakruse
    Tamarakruse
  • BabyKakes
    BabyKakes
  • Zach Augustine
    Zach Augustine
  • Johnny Blake
    Johnny Blake
  • Alexis Atlean Hudson
    Alexis Atlean Hudson
Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.

32 Reviews

Tamarakruse February 22, 2022
So so, so not a Cajun recipe with these spices. I’ll go back to my others.
 
Smaug February 28, 2022
The Greek seasoning (which by the way is from Arkansas) does seem like an odd choice, but the main ingredients are salt, pepper, oregano and powdered garlic and onion (always to be avoided) with a lot of filler; there are some other ingredients in small quantities, not sure what.
 
Anne J. December 18, 2021
Oh honey no! And don’t be hurt, it’s a New Orleans joke.
My family’s recipe on at least it’s fifth generation:
Soak the beans and I totally agree about Camellia brand but they are hard to find except in the South and I live in Virginia, what does that tell you, clean them for stones and split beans, in about 8 cups of water. I like overnight but a two minute boil with a 4 hour soak will do, then drain but do not rinse. Add 8 cups of water then low heat with a large onion peeled and cut in 1/8ths, two stalks of celery cut into 1/3 and one green pepper also cut into 1/8 with the stem removed. Two leaves of bay and two minced toes of garlic get tossed in as well. I keep the lid closed except to skim the scum as it starts to boil. I may need to add more water but I try not to, I might give a quick stir at that point but then I mind my own business. At the one hour point I add the seasonings, see below for the description. About before I plan to serve them and it could be 4-6 hrs or more, I crack the lid to let them cream up, ie thicken. I might stir them every 15 minutes then to make sure they are not catching and burning, if they are, do not stir the burned bits up. If they are good and creamy turn the heat off and pull them away from the heat. Now in affluent homes they might have an old ham bone in the freezer or the last part of the ham from the deli when they can’t cut any more known as seasoning meat and I add them about one hour into the cooking phase with a few grinds of black pepper and cayenne but be careful with the cayenne unless you know your eaters be very sparing. If I can get Rex I think it is the best, my daughter brings it to me from Baton Rouge but she shops early because it sells out quick. Do not touch the cayenne and then any of your mucus membranes or you will be very sad.
I meant it when I said low heat, but you can scrape down the dried stuff on the sides.
My other daughter became vegetarian in her teens so I omitted all the meat additions and cooked spicy andouille to serve on the side for the rest of us out of respect, but that tells you it can be vegetarian and it still tastes good. My red beans are on the thick side but you can add some water or stop cooking earlier if you want them soupier. That is up to you.
I serve it under the rice and I like Mahatma, you are on your own for the rice it is a different novel!!!
I didn’t mention salt because it is up to you, the seasoning meats make it salty enough for some and you probably need salt at the end if you didn’t. And some households have those who are watching their sodium intake, serve it with salt and pepper.
This is the basic recipe given to me by my Mimi, if I deviated my family would think I had had another stroke. My Bampy who grew up on a rice plantation, had a small portion of red beans and rice at every meal including his breakfast with his bacon and eggs.
If you made it this far, God bless you!
And we weren’t an affluent family but I saved every ham bone and seasoning meat was very inexpensive when I was raising my children.
 
Smaug February 28, 2022
I've bought Camellia beans on Amazon for a non atrocious price, and I believe Camellia will mail order. They have an interesting web site, well worth checking out.
 
BabyKakes September 29, 2020
I've tried several different recipes for red beans and rice. Most of them have been so so, but I could tell this was definitely the way I remember them from our trips to New Orleans when I did my first taste of the broth. By far this was/is the absolute best ever!!! I followed your recipe exactly and my family was very happy with the outcome. Thank you for sharing! )
 
BigPink November 2, 2019
Process tips: 1) if you can, soak your beans overnight with a teaspoon of baking soda. 2) toward the end of the cooking just use a spoon to smash some of the beans against the side of the pot. It will release some of the starchiness of the beans to thicken it up and make creamy
 
Nicole B. October 8, 2019
Do you need to cover the beans for the second part? (After you combine all the other ingredients?)
 
marilu October 8, 2019
Yes, I usually do, but I usually undo the lid to occasionally give it a stir and taste because it’s so good! I’m so impatient waiting for dinner when it’s this recipe :).
 
Zach A. March 18, 2019
Slightly misleading when you say 'add all above remaining ingredients'. It can be interpreted as adding the rice to the beans for the four hour cook.
 
Anton January 1, 2019
The red bean recipe feeds nine to twelve. One cup of rice isn't nearly enough.
 
2Pot S. April 11, 2022
1 cup dry brown rice yields 4 cups cooked, so that's 1/2 cup each for 8 people. The beans are the star, so I'd suggest serving rice over the beans rather than under.
 
Bella95 December 18, 2018
Slow cooker warning.
Hi all just wanted to pass on that it's dangerous to cook red beans in a slow cooker as the temperature doesn't get high enough. They can be finished off in one but they need to be boiled first because of a toxin they contain.
http://www.eatingwell.com/article/291149/why-cooking-kidney-beans-in-your-slow-cooker-can-make-you-sick/
 
Tammy R. October 24, 2020
Yes I was thinking the same thing. MAKE SURE YOU BOIL FIRST!
 
HoftHome February 7, 2021
FYI: the FDA link no longer works, gives a "Page Not Found" error.

Email [email protected] & let them know that the FDA link in "https://www.eatingwell.com/article/291149/why-cooking-kidney-beans-in-your-slow-cooker-can-make-you-sick" (published January 28, 2019) is invalid.

Correct link should be updated to "https://www.fda.gov/media/83271/download#page254"!
 
Mary December 9, 2018
How would you do this in an instant pot?
 
Kelly F. April 5, 2020
I just did the red beans in the instant pot, you could then add all ingredients and slow cook in the pot.
 
marilu October 8, 2018
Yum! This really hit the spot. At first, I was a little worried about what the strong flavor of dill pickle juice would be like in here, but I don't really detect it at all. It just helps to balance out the richness of all that smoked meat for me. So delicious. Thank you!
 
Ben J. September 24, 2018
I'm not sure why this is featured in slow cooker recipes. Seems like you are using a pot on the stove and not a slow cooker.
 
cosmiccook September 23, 2018
Red beans are one of my all-time dislikes growing up in New Orleans! I especially loathed them AFTER they were frozen and defrosted. I love all other beans, just not them. This photo doesn't look like any RB&R I've ever seen or had though. The pickle juice makes sense given we always had pickled pork meat in ours. That's why a vinegar-based hot sauce is de-rigueur!
 
cosmiccook January 1, 2019
You need to cream some of the beans to get the consistency correct. Also, three pounds of meat to 1 lb. of bean ratio is off. Smoked ham is very different from pickled pork (usually the trotter). You can search for Camellia Red Beans for the visual and recipe. The "trinity' is typically used--Onions, Celery & Bell pepper--along w garlic. Blue Runner canned RB&R is a close second. As I stated previously I just don't care for Red Beans.
 
cosmiccook January 1, 2019
Also never heard of using a greek seasoning. That's a head-scratcher. Cavenders isn't a name I recognize. Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning if you're going that route, or Paul Prudhommes' seasonings.
 
Jennc133 December 5, 2020
I was looking through my spices and didn’t have the Tony Chachere’s, I saw the Cavender’s and passed it by. Made my own Creole mix, beans are bubbling away-next time I guess-lol
 
Johnny B. September 23, 2018
Do you have the nutritional info for the recipe?
 
SailNE September 12, 2018
Where can I find Cavender's Greek Seasoning?
 
Clare W. September 26, 2019
I looked it up. Walmart has it and it has MSG in it. Looks like you could probably make your own. Not exotic.
 
Alexis A. July 24, 2018
Can I use canned beans?
 
Lawrence P. January 24, 2019
Blue Runner Beans from the can taste like home cooked beans, especially Red Beans. Add fried smoked sausage and saute onions in skillet on stove then add to beans. Let simmer about 15-20 minutes. Wala! I take Red Beans seriously, a New Orleans staple from "Buster Beans" in the Quarters, back-in-the-day!
 
Lawrence P. January 24, 2019
Oh, of Couse with rice, white or brown.
 
Juclar December 12, 2021
Buster beans? Is that from the small, back of the building counter at Buster’s on Orleans Street?
 
Jane D. June 16, 2018
brown rice in 15 minutes?
are you a kitchen witch or a magician?
enquiring minds want to know!
 
Another NOLA expat here, and I am excited to try this "secret" recipe as well! But I have the same question about the brown rice. Are you using instant brown rice? Or did you mean to write white rice?
 
gandalf June 11, 2018
When I cook brown rice, it usually takes about an hour to cook; perhaps you use a different type of brown rice, or perhaps I am just missing the boat by overcooking my brown rice?

I ask because I often cook dried cranberry beans with chopped bacon and brown rice in this fashion: After soaking the beans overnight and discarding the stale water, I cook them for an hour then in fresh water; then I add the chopped bacon and brown rice, and cook at a simmer for another hour. This gives me rice at the correct consistency.

When I cook long-grained white rice, by contrast, it usually takes about 12-15 minutes. Any thoughts on this disparity? (Didn't mean to hijack this thread, either.)

As a former resident of NOLA, I love good red beans and rice!