The Big Easy
Why hello there! And Welcome to Kitchen Catastrophe, the ongoing saga of one man going crazy in a room full of knives, and strangely, no one really getting hurt. I’m your imprisoned mad prophet Jonathan O’Guin, Speaker of the Words of Power, The Words of Resistance, and, of course, the Words of Wattage. Today’s recipe is Red Beans and Rice. You can skip my color-commentary and cut straight to the colored food HERE, for the rest of us, let’s talk about the Iron Triangle
Ready to pay the Iron Price
The Iron Triangle, which I first heard as “the Engineer’s Triangle” is, formally, a model for the constraints of project management, utilized to analyze project goals and inspect project biases. Informally, it’s a joke and diagram you’ve heard EVERYWHERE. Why? Because the basic version of the Engineer’s Triangle is to explain the needs for an Engineering project:” You can have it done FAST, You can have it done WELL, and you can have it done CHEAP. Pick 2.” This statement has been re-used for dozens of situations, from engineering to cooking, and if you change the options, it can be used for hundreds more. As in the old joke about dating:
Man, I hope anyone dating me is cool with picking “Intelligent” twice, forming some sort of terrible non-Euclidean triangle by twisting the angles of Time, and likely freeing a Hound of Tindalos.
In cooking, the general principle holds up. The best foods cost either a lot of money, or a fair bit of time. (Sometimes both, which gives me hope for my reality-perverting dating triangle.) This is why Crockpots are one of the secret powerhouses of a kitchen: they give you more TIME than a wall of clocks at an airport. Drop food in pot with flavoring things, leave for 10 hours. Crockpots are awesome. So of course I didn’t use one for this recipe. Why? Because I DON’T PLAY BY YOUR RULES, MAN!
Moving on, when I was writing this note, I was in South Seattle, house-sitting for an old friend while he and his wife went on Honeymoon, in exchange for Tequila, and enough money to not starve. I’m very easily bought. Now, while I learned many valuable skills over the course of my college career, the most instructive time was actually the four years after college, where I lived on a series of part-time jobs, striving to support myself for 10 months on roughly…Jesus, did I really only make $6000 that first year? With a monthly rent of $315, it was no wonder I was outright broke that entire year. I got better jobs, and eventually made it above the poverty line, but I was definitely lower class; this lead to an eye for deals, and learning how to make the most of cheap ingredients. For instance, this is how much food I bought for $40.
I’m counting the human arm in the picture, despite not paying for it. It was delicious.
And I was deliberately not being maximally efficient. Several of those items are luxuries, and several ended up being unnecessary, because I bought all the spices for the dish, before checking if they had any spices. I bought a 10 pound bag of potatoes and used exactly NONE of them. Why bring this up? Well, I know a lot of recent college graduates, and soon to be college graduates. Several of whom read this. And this might be one of the most important lessons I can give to managing finances on your own: Food you make is so much cheaper than the food you buy. My preferred meal at Taco bell gives me 3 Tacos and a drink for around $6.40. Meaning I could buy 6 of them for $40. That would feed me for 3 days, assuming I skip breakfast, and 6 consecutive meals at Taco Bell requires they call the police to report that you’re committing self-harm. This shopping-cart worth of food would easily feed me for 4 to 5 days, and my insides wouldn’t hate me. And I’d still get things I like, like the bag of Kettle Corn.
The key to keeping cost low is filling, inexpensive meals that still have enough flavor to keep you interested; which is why we’re heading down south to Louisiana for a meal made from, and made to be, left-overs.
Laissez Le Bons Temps Rouler!
Red Beans and Rice is a traditional Southern meal, traditionally served on a Monday. Why Monday? Because you made Ham on Sunday, and washed the dishes Monday. So you threw a pot of beans on, with the ham bones tossed in, and let that cook away while you do dishes. My version is a little more upscale than that. But, it does take just as long. The first step is to get a 1 lb bag of dried red kidney beans. You sort them out, and rinse them. Now, the privileged millennial youths reading this, wrapped up in their Spotifies and Nikei Indices (That may be the single nerdiest two-word phrase I’ve ever written. It’s a reference to East Asian Stock Markets, and includes the relatively unknown plural of “index”.) probably don’t know what to look for when sorting beans, so I’ll tell them: you know, anything that looks gross or weird. Seriously, that’s the main goal. If a bean’s shriveled up, toss it. Split in half? Toss it. Find a weird little pebble? Definitely toss it, unless you’re trying to pick a king based on who gets the weird little pebble. And even then, be sure it’s not like, a hard clump of dirt.
Soak the beans overnight in water or at LEAST 6 hours. They will grow tremendously.
As a man who’s watched both, I can guarantee that “paint drying” is far more interesting than “Beans swelling”
Dump out the water they soaked in, and add new water. The old water was terrible. It was too old to be useful. Like (INSERT 2ND TO LAST GENERATION OF IPHONE HERE). The next steps are blissfully un-complex. You break out the Holy Trinity. That’s that Creole version of Mirepoix. Mirepoix, as I’m sure I’ve ranted about in the past, is the combination of carrots, onions, and VEGETABLE that permeates almost all forms of cooking. The traditional is carrot, onion, celery. Add potatoes, and you’ve got roasting vegetables. German Suppengrun is carrot, celeriac, and leeks (it’s like the store-brand version) Swap the carrot for Bell Pepper, and you’ve got the Holy Trinity. So you chop up your onion, you chop up your bell pepper, and you chop…up…your…celer-… GODDAMN IT.
Celery’s the small, white one, right? Tastes like fire? Used to kill vampirtes?
Well, I’m dumb. Seriously, this is a real misstep for me. They don’t call this mixture the Holy Trinity for nothing. It’s like, the foundation of Creole cuisine. It’s like remembering the Son and the Holy Ghost, but then forgetting the Father. (Though, really, since Onion is always the main player, it’s more like remembering the Father and the Holy Ghost, and forgetting Jesus.) I ended up making do flavor wise by throwing some celery seed in with the other dude. Sweat the Holy Two and Half Men with minced garlic in olive oil until softened, then throw them all into the water with the beans. Throw in your herbs and spices, bring to a boil, and simmer 2.5 hours.
Now, this is where I encounter a bit of a technical issue with this recipe: See, while this meal is filling and pretty damn tasty (spoilers, I guess, if you were waiting for my final conclusion), it is not going to win any awards for beauty. The majority of the time, it’s a pot of water with green debris and spots of oil dotting the top, like some sort of fetid fen of flavor. It’s swamp in a pot.
I vaguely expect to be harassed by a Scottish Ogre, hanging out here.
By the end, it looks closer to refried beans, but even that’s not particularly photogenic. Further, I’m a stupid dumb-dumb, and, well, actually forgot to take any pictures of the finished product, where at least the rice would have formed a contrasting color to the grey of the beans, an error that makes it hard to sell you on the finished product, lacking my signature appetizing style. But, hey, you presumably tune in at least partly to see me fail, and this is definitely a failure. The worst kind: the easily avoided hiccup that hurts just enough to shape an experience, but not enough to be funny. It’s like forgetting sandals when going to the beach. At least forgetting sunscreen would have made you look silly, and left a testament. Just forgetting the sandals mean you look stupid at the beach, and spend three days finding sand still in your goddamn sneakers. My gravest apologies. Let’s talk of lighter things.
Meat your Maker
Now, I told you, something like 600 words ago, that my version is a little more upscale than relying on hambones for flavor. And that’s true. Instead, I use a whole pound of diced Andouille sausage.
I stacked the meat into the rough shape of Louisiana. Or a sparrow. It’s hard to tell.
As a fun fact, Andouille comes from the Latin meaning “made by insertion” (Teehee), and remains an insult in France, who actually have multiple sausage based insults. Which I thought was silly, and then I said “weiner” and laughed for six minutes, so I guess it’s a little more universal than the original reaction.
Anywho, the Andouille actually makes an easy transition point, because it only simmers with the beans for half an hour, and most rice takes around 20 minutes to cook, so basically, once you toss in the sausage, you can start the rice, and your dinner will be ready to eat in about 25 minutes.
As to the meal itself: It’s thick, and hot. The original recipe called for white rice, to which I laughed, and used a pre-made Cajun Rice mix, because, as I have to consistently remind people, I am basically a fire-eater in terms of the kind of things I’ll willing consume. I will say, you may want to wait a bit before eating , as the beans almost physically burned my tongue. It’s traditional to serve the dish with Tabasco or another hot sauce, to further increase your pleasure/suffering. Studies have also shown that your body tends to throw in the towel sooner on spicy foods, allowing you to save a little more food per serving, increasing your return on your investment. Or, as my dad put it: “Back in the day, I was living out of my car, and I ate like, 2 potatoes a day. And that got boring quick. But throw some hot sauce on that potato, and it was a challenge.”
So if you’re on your last $20 for the month, maybe spend 5 on that bottle of hot sauce. It’ll make the rice, beans, and potatoes a little more interesting. And if nothing else, you can try charging $10 to take a straight shot of it. That’s how you make an industry, man.
NEXT TIME: I ACTUALLY HAVE NO IDEA. I STARTED LIKE 3 POSTS AND HAVEN’T DECIDED. I’M LEANING TOWARD THAI. SO JOIN US NEXT TIME, TO KNOW WHAT THE HELL I’M DOING. I SURE DON’T
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Seriously, it never really gets prettier than this.
1 lb dried red kidney beans.
¼ c olive oil
1 onion, chopped.
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped (or, 2 tsps celery seed, should you be an idiot)
2 tbsp minced garlic
6 cups water
2 bay leaves
½ tsp cayenne
1 tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp dried sage
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp Cajun seasoning
1 lb Andouille sausage
(Ingredients for preferred Rice: I used a premade Cajun Rice box)
- Sort out the beans, tossing the bad ones. Rinse the rest, and soak overnight, or at least 6 hours. Dump water, rinse beans again, and return to pot with 6 cups water.
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add Holy Trinity (Onion, Bell Pepper, Celery) and garlic and cook for 4 minutes. Add to pot of beans.
- Add to pot all seasonings and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 2.5 hours.
- Slice Sausage and add to beans, simmering an additional 30 minutes.
- Prepare rice.
- Scoop rice into bowl or onto a plate, and scoop beans over the top. Serve hot, with vinegar-based hot sauce to add to taste.