Have you got a leftover ham bone in the refrigerator? Here’s just the thing to do with it. I first ate this classic dish on a trip to New Orleans almost twenty-five years ago. I remember heading into the French Quarter and pausing at a tourist center to get a restaurant recommendation for lunch. Not only were we steered to Tujague's, a classic spot facing the French Market, we were told what to order: "It's Monday," said our guide. “You gotta have red beans."
Beans and rice? In epicurean New Orleans? And why on Monday?
Turns out Monday has long been laundry day in Louisiana, and the family cook, who often as not had a ham bone left from Sunday dinner, would add it to a pot of beans and let it simmer unattended while she worked on the wash. By the time the clothes were ready, so was supper. And a delicious, smoky-spicy meal it was.
Rinse beans; place in large, heavy pot with ham bone and cover with cold water. Bring to simmer and cook (uncovered), skimming often, 10-15 minutes.
Add onions, green pepper, celery, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, and the three kinds of pepper. Continue to simmer until beans are very tender, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove ham bone; let cool.
If beans are still watery, raise heat and boil to reduce liquid. To give a creamy texture, use a wooden spoon to mash some of the beans against sides of pot (or use an immersion blender). Pull ham off bone, cut it into chunks, and add to beans. Season beans to taste with salt.
To serve, place one or two sausage pieces (if using) and a mound of hot, cooked white rice in a wide, shallow bowl. Ladle on some beans and sprinkle with chopped green onion.
Pre-soaking the beans is an optional step. If you haven’t enough time for this, just cook the beans longer, until they’re tender. Also, one or two meaty ham hocks may be substituted for the ham bone.
Copyright by Terese Allen