have eaten some of the most memorable Cajun food with longtime friend Brandi, who is originally from Louisiana. One of my favorite recipes of hers, which I always return to in the coldest months, is for white beans and rice. The recipe comes from her dad, Dale Chauvin, who is from the small town of Berwick. The dish is one of those simple Southern miracles that takes a bag of beans, a little meat, and a few vegetables and turns it into smoky, silky brilliance that warms you from the inside out. Once you have a bowl, you crave another.
This recipe uses small dried white beans and originally called for “salt meat,” the Cajun equivalent of salt pork. That isn’t all that easy to find here — though I have found salt pork in the meat department at Carrs. I have also used a bone from a ham that still has meat on it or I’ve found smoked meaty soup bones in the meat department and kept them in the freezer for this occasion. You could also probably use a smoked turkey leg in a pinch. Whatever meat you choose, remember salty smokiness is key. If you are using a bone or bones, you’re going to want to be able to cut about 10 ounces of smoked meat off and add it into the beans.
A couple notes on beans. If you have a line on some small white beans from Cajun country, you should use those by all means. You could also order from somewhere fancy like Rancho Gordo. I usually just pick up a $3 bag of dry navy beans. The beauty of the navy bean is that the small size makes it cook fast.
This is a recipe for dry beans. I don’t recommend using canned. I know there’s a whole school of people out there who don’t have the forethought to soak dry beans ahead of time. I am often part of this school. If you didn’t soak, but you want to make these today, there are some good, quicker options. The fastest one involves an Instant Pot. You can quick-soak beans by dumping them in the pot and covering them with two inches of water. Seal it up and set it to pressure cook for 5 minutes. Let it release. Bango! Good to go.
Brandi’s dad suggests, if you don’t have a pressure cooker, a “hard boil” for two hours. Then, he says, when you add them to the sauteed meat and vegetables, make sure your bean water is hot. I have been warned not to add cold water to beans once they’re boiling. And I have ignored this warning and had the problem of beans that boil forever and never get soft. So, now, I keep my tea kettle going to top off the boiling pot and you should too. It isn’t called for in the official recipe, but I do sometimes add fresh thyme and I top off my bowl with a few shakes of a Cajun seasoning called “Slap Ya Mama,” which gives it good heat. I like to serve it with cornbread and a sprinkle of green onions or fresh parsley.
Dale Chauvin’s white beans and rice
Serves 6-8, generously
1 pound dry small white beans or navy beans, soaked overnight or quick soaked; see note above
Two tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 medium white onions, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 12-ounce cube salt pork or one meaty smoked ham bone or about a pound of meaty smoked pork necks
1 bay leaf
3 cups cooked long grain white rice
Chopped green onions and Cajun spice to serve
Method: If using salt pork, boil the pork for 15 minutes and then cut into quarter-inch cubes. In a large pot or Dutch oven, saute onions, pepper and garlic until onions become translucent. Add salt pork or bone-in meat, beans and bay leaf. Add enough hot water to cover the beans by about 3 inches. Bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, stirring occasionally, until the beans are soft. The liquid should remain at least an inch above the beans during this process. If it gets low, add additional boiling water from your kettle. Once the beans are soft, if you are using bone-in meat, pull the bone from the pot, remove the meat, chop it and return it to the beans. Then, using the back of a wooden spoon, smash about a quarter of the beans against the side of the pot. This will add a creamy texture. Simmer a half hour more while you make the rice. When you’re ready to serve, remove bay leaf, taste and adjust salt if necessary. If you’d like to add some heat, add a few dashes of cajun seasoning. Serve with warm white rice and a sprinkle of green onions.