Updated: Jan 11, 2021
You may have been told by one of us. You may have guessed it after watching a celebrity chef cook. You may have been smacked in the face by it your first time in the French Quarter. Either way, most people know that Catholicism runs deep in South Louisiana. It's by design, too. Louisiana may have been first colonized by the French, but Spain and their Inquisition-ing ways swooped in more than once to save us from the Protestant British Royal Army. In fact, under Spanish rule you were required to be a registered Catholic to be a resident of the colony of New Orleans. You can still see it in the Spanish architecture that replaced French wood-and-brick houses after the Second New Orleans Fire of 1794. These plastered, tile-roofed, balconied homes and businesses rose after the Spanish priests refused to ring the church bell in a warning during the fire because it was Good Friday, a holy day of obligation.
You'll hear it in the way we talk about food- onion, pepper, and celery are referred to as the Trinity. Add garlic (a.k.a. the Pope) much later on in the process to 'bless the pot' and make it the Holy Trinity. You'll taste it too. If you've had a jambalaya made the right way, you know that, just like Spanish paella, Cajun rainbows end with pots overflowing with addictively crusty, browned bits of rice. Keep peeking in that pot and you'll get some rich, smokey andouille sausage or tasso ham, courtesy of, you guessed it, Spanish colonists. Each time the Spanish colonized the New World, they'd bring pigs with them, dropping off a male and female every so often to make sure the troops would have meat on the return voyage home. Skip ahead 250 years and Louisiana is so in love with pork we have whole weekend feasts called a Boucherie, where the whole (large, Catholic) family or community break down, prepare, and consume a whole hog from Friday to Sunday, pausing only for Sunday mass.
After an affair like that, who wants to dirty up a bunch of dishes again on Monday? Not Louisiana mothers who also had to do the wash and make it to the markets Monday morning. More often than not, mothers would soak a pot of beans (Caribbean red kidney in New Orleans, Great Northern white in Cajun Country) overnight. In the morning she'd strain the beans and simmer them with aromatics and that ham bone from Sunday's feast until the bean just bursts and thickens the pot with yummy, yummy starch.
Maybe she fries some catfish or smoked sausage. Maybe there's cornbread or hushpuppies. Maybe there's jambalaya rice (!) instead of plain rice. However you decide to serve your white beans, just make sure you eat them the right way- with a drizzle of mustard on top. I can't explain it, but I will defend it, and I'm not the only one that does it. It's a dealer's choice of plain yellow mustard, pickled mustard seeds, or Creole mustard that should be tried at least once. You've got a big pot of beans anyway; why not try something new and wildly delicious? When you do, let me know what you think in the comments below!
Until next time,
Happy eating, y'all :)
Cajun White Beans
1 lb. Camellia brand Great Northern or Navy beans, soaked overnight
3 tablespoons high heat oil- canola, peanut, grape seed
1 large onion, medium diced
4 sticks celery, finely diced
1 green or red bell pepper, finely diced
8 oz. ham from a Sunday ham and the ham bone or the skin and fat cap from a ham bone.
1 head garlic, chopped (at least 8 cloves)
1/2 t dried thyme
1/2 t dried oregano
1/8-1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 T Crystal Sauce or another mild hot sauce or white wine vinegar
3 quarts water (you can substitute 1 quart water for stock, but it's not necessary)
1/2 cup each green onion and parsley, chopped
1. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat (7/10). Add oil, onion, celery, pepper, meat, and a generous pinch of salt. Saute, stirring occasionally, until veggies are brown and sticking to the pot, 10-15 minutes.
2. Add garlic, herbs, and spices. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add water/stock and the Crystal Sauce. Strain the beans and add them to the pot. Bring to a simmer, drop the heat to medium-low (4/10), and cook until beans are soft and have released their starch, 3-4 hours. Add water as necessary.
3. Turn off heat. Add another splash of Crystal or vinegar and half of the green onion and parsley, stir, and cover. Allow to rest while you make the rice or corn bread before serving.