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troubleshooting homemade red beans and rice

Hi gang.

After several visits to New Orleans, I finally took the plunge and have been making red beans and rice here at home for the last year or so. My basic recipe is from Ignatius (it came in a packet of recipe cards from different restaurants) and on the whole it has served us well.

We just made it again today and while it was tasty as usual the liquid was a bit thin, more on the watery side than what I would call saucy. This happens periodically (but not always) and I'm wondering if the experts at Chowhound could suggest why.

* Heat too low? (We cooked for five hours but it was a very low simmer, about the smallest possible flame.)
* Too much liquid added? (We just covered the beans, as many recipes suggest.)
* Pot too big/small? (We used a wider pot than usual, and ceramic, rather than my banged-up Revereware aluminum pot.)
* Bad beans? (Gumbo Pages says old beans don't get creamy -- I know the product doesn't turn over here in NYC like in NO, but we just bought them.)

Guidance is appreciated! Thanks!

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  1. My take on reading it was "old beans" even before I got to the bottom of your differential diagnosis. If you want a quick fix, take out about a cupful and puree and return to the pot.

    3 Replies
    1. re: weezycom

      Yep, that would be my suggestion as well. Sad that you can't get Camellia beans in the stores up in the NYC area, those are the absolute best to use, and even they have been known to get old. That was my fault though as I forgot about them in the pantry. No matter what I did they would just not get soft, so even mashing some really didn't help. Luckily I head home to New Orleans two or three times a year and bring them back with me.
      Every now and then, my mother used to come home with ziploc bags full of farm fresh red beans, those were incredible.

      1. re: roro1831

        Actually, as a transplanted Yat living in the Ozarks now, I was entirely frustrated with the quality of what they sold as dried red beans in local stores. I was determined to get Camellia - especially when my husband wanted me to make my red beans for 40 people at his job this past Christmas. At the time Camellia did not sell direct to the public, so I found a website called CajunGrocer. Their prices are very reasonable (1.82 lb bag) and what was especially nice is that for 25 pounds of beans, the shipping was like $15 and I got it in 2 days. You can call them and they can tell you the exact shipping for where you live based on the order weight. VERY nice people to deal with. It came out to about 2.50 a lb total which I found WELL worth it to get my beloved Camellias! I've been using my stash for the past 6 months now (and I've noticed no change in quality). Matter of fact I'm cooking 4 lbs today and have about 6 bags left. I will order from them again and can highly recommend. P.S. My "secret ingredient" I add is Tabasco Chipotle Sauce - about a tablespoon per pot. Try it!

        1. re: DebKelly

          Tabasco chipotle is such an under-appreciated product. I usually pour a little on top of my dish of beans and rice. In the beans themselves, I use some smoked Spanish paprika. It has a similar effect. mmm...

    2. Thanks for these insights... when people talk about beans being creamy or not, are they referring to the mushiness (for lack of a better term) of the beans themselves, or the sauce that kind of holds everything together? B/c my beans themselves are tender, it's the sauce that's a problem. This would be old beans, too?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Mark Alberts

        For me, when speaking of the creaminess, it's both. I like a mushy bean (not to the point where they break down and you have soup), that will in turn make the sauce thicker, especially if toward the end of the cooking time you take some beans out and mash them up and put back in the pot. My mom's mom used to make beans that did not break down, so basically it was whole beans that were tender, but the sauce was very thin and while I ate it I knew back then as a kid (she died when I was 7), that I didn't like them cooked this way.
        Now you have me craving beans and I need to get some pickle meat to make a batch.

      2. I made the Cook's Illustrated recipe for red beans and rice recently. The recipe states that for the starch from the beans to thicken the the cooking liquid, it is important to maintain a vigorous simmer when cooking the beans. After you have added the beans to vegetables and spices, bring them to a boil and vigorously simmer until the beans are soft and liquid thickens, 45 to 60 minutes. I ordered Camelia beans online.

        1. Possibly bad beans, but I'll pass along the tips I got from someone I used to work with, whose beans were always delicious--tender and still whole, but in a creamy "sauce." Her recipe was one of the simplest I've ever seen (soaked beans, chopped onion & garlic, bay leaf, ham hock, pepper, and water all into the pot at once; salt added at the end). Her tips: start with more water rather than less, a good 3 inches above the beans; bring to a boil and boil for 10-15 minutes. Then lower the heat, but keep it at a low boil (bubbling) until the beans are soft. I don't know why or how, but starting with more water has worked for me. My beans have been better ever since she told me this. I used to "add water to cover"; now I fill the pot. (I also used to saute the vegetables first, but I stopped doing that, too, once she shared her recipe.)

          1. I grew up eating Camellia beans, so naturally, I'm in the camp of starting with (oxymoronish) fresh-dried beans for an end result of a creamy "liquor", with a tender, but firmly shaped bean without the need of puree'ing any beans. NYC has so many wonderful ethnic possibilities, I wonder if you could find a Cajun grocer, which would most assuredly carry the Cajun staple of Camellia red kidneys.

            If not, I read somewhere on this board that some mass produced/distributed brands are now date stamping with a sell-buy-date on the side of the bag. I'd look for that as an alternative.

            As to cooking method, I have a personal preference to start with as much water as I think/hope I'll need for the entire cooking process. This is never exact however, as each bag of beans will absorb varying amts of water ratio'd to evaporation. But I don't like to continually put the beans through a cool down by adding add'l water every half-hour or whatever. Just my own deal.

            If you do end up doing mail-order (CajunGrocer, as mentioned by DK, is a great source), don't order more than you think you'll eat within a year's time or you may be right back cooking "old" beans...... If there's a break on shipping charges for ordering more, you may want to enjoy another style of bean - Great Northerns are great for many applications, particularly a creamy white bean soup in winter.

            1. Camellia beans are good, but not superior to other brands of pink kidney beans in my opinion. But don't just use anything called "red beans". Those small red beans just don't make it. Ditto on the recommendations to puree or just mash up some beans with a fork to make a creamy sauce. The alternative is to cook for an extra couple of hours until the beans start to fall apart.

              This is total heresy, especially coming from someone who grew up in NO, but canellini beans are my favorite for beans and rice. Just close your eyes and pretend they are red.

              As for the "old beans" theory, I have my doubts. I really doubt anyone, even Cook's Illustrated, has tested the shelf life of dried beans. More likely someone makes a disappointing batch and blames it on the beans.

              1. Red beans and rice is one of those dishes I can't seem to get right. Now buy Zataran in the box the three or four times a year I feel like and it just tastes so right to me--and it's the only rice in a box mix that I ever buy.

                1. There are times when the beans come out thin, but after reheating the next day the beans are creamy... so I vote for the flame too low. I suggest cooking at the next setting up, maybe two settings. You want the beans to simmer a little more vigorously.

                  Another option is to try crock potting the recipe. I have good success using a crock pot for beans.

                  1. I am quite a bit behind in my response but I am very much in love with red beans and rice right now and just had to reply. Being from the south, I have to agree with previous posters with the importance of using Camellia beans. I've used other red beans and have head so-so results. I usually bring it to a boil and let it simmer on medium-low for about two hours. Then I take about two cups of the beans and puree them and our them back into the pot. This definitely thickens the soup.

                    1. I'll have to say flame too low, not cooked long enough. I've used different brands of beans (Camellia is the best), but I've never had them not get creamy, you just have to cook them long enough.
                      For my usual red bean recipe nowadays I put the beans in a crockpot in the morning and let them cook all day (it has a setting where it cooks on high for 2 hours then switches to low). By dinner time, the beans are done/soft, but not creamy as the saucy part is rather thin. I decant them into a dutch oven, and cook on the stove uncovered for about 30 minutes, when the excess liquid cooks off and the sauce texture gets creamy.