Several years ago I was looking at the dried beans at Walmart and a very elegant older man was also shopping for red beans. He asked if I was planning to make red beans and rice. Since I was, he offered his recommendation. As it turned out, he was from New Orleans and the only brand he used was Camellia. After explaining the recipe he used, which was based on the back of the package, he wished me good luck and went on with his shopping.

Of course I bought the Camellia brand red beans and made red beans and rice immediately. They were delicious! The package recipe calls for pickled pigs feet but I use ham instead. Not much of a pickled pigs feet person to be honest. If you have a leftover ham bone to use, then by all means do. You can substitute a ham hock or two if you haven’t cooked a ham lately. Traditionally red beans and rice was made on Mondays to use the ham bone leftover from Sunday dinner. I love traditions like that for famous dishes!

Red Beans and Rice Recipe

  • 1 pound/2 cups of dried red beans, small red beans or red kidney beans work well
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2-3 tablespoons Cajun Seasoning
  • 1 ham bone/1-2 ham hocks/1 pound diced smoked ham

Soak and Cook Your Beans

My preferred method is to soak dried beans overnight in salted water. Pour the dried beans out on a table or countertop and sort through them. You are checking to make sure there are no rocks or clumps of dirt. I also check for any cracked, spilt, or weird beans and toss them in the compost.

Put the sorted beans in the pot or a large bowl and cover with water. Add a tablespoon of salt and set aside to soak. There are quick soak methods that call for bringing the water to a boil then letting it sit in the hot water for an hour or so. I have also cooked them straight from dried with good results. The key is not using really old dried beans. They will take much longer to cook and sometimes never get truly tender.

Red beans soaking for Red Beans and Rice.
Soaking red beans.
Red beans cooked for Red Beans and Rice.
Cooked beans for Red Beans and Rice.

Above you can see the beans soaking and then after they are cooked. I usually drain the water and add fresh water and more salt before bringing them to a simmer over low heat. This is when you would add the ham bone or ham hock. Since I am using diced ham for this recipe I’ll add it later.

You might have heard to never soak or cook beans in salted water but that’s not true. I’ve always heard that salt would make the skins tough and the beans wouldn’t cook. This just isn’t true and I have no idea where this myth came from. You will only have trouble with the beans not cooking if you have old beans or don’t cook them long enough.

Flavoring the Red Beans

Once the beans are tender, cook the onion and celery in a skillet with a tablespoon of oil or bacon drippings. I chop the onion first and get it going in the skillet while I chop the celery. You can prep the vegetables first and cook them together if you want. Once they are tender, add the Cajun Seasoning to the skillet to cook a bit. I like to fry spices off when I can to heighten their flavor. Add the vegetables and seasoning to the beans.

Onions for Red Beans and Rice.
Spices for Red Beans and Rice.

In the same skillet, fry the ham a bit to get some caramelized flavor going on. I let it cook and stir for a good 5 minutes or until the edges of the meat darken. This is where you will get a lot of flavor for your dish. After you add the ham to the pot of beans, you need to deglaze the skillet. There’s so much flavor left in the skillet from the onions, celery, and ham and you don’t want to waste it. Pour about a half cup of water into the skillet, swirl it around a bit and pour that into the beans.

Most of the caramelly bits should come right off into the water on that first go since the skillet is hot. If there are any left then just repeat with more water and add that to the beans. If you need to add more water to cover the beans and ham then go ahead. I had to add a couple cups to my pot.

Ham for Red Beans and Rice.
Browning the ham.
Ham added to Red Beans and Rice.
Vegetables and ham added to the beans.
Deglazing the skillet for Red Beans.
Deglazing the skillet.
Finished Red Beans.
Finished red beans ready to serve.

Finish and Serve!

Now all that’s left is to taste the beans for seasoning and add salt if it needs it. You can add more Cajun Seasoning if it’s not spicy enough for you. I like to serve this with white rice, pickled red onions, and hot cornbread.