Memorable food moments in film have been well documented. One of my favorites occurs in the 1978 masterpiece from filmmaker Les Blank, Always for Pleasure, the documentary about Mardi Gras traditions in New Orleans. In the film there is a particularly memorable scene, at least to me, where New Orleans’ native, singer, Irma Thomas recites her recipe on how she makes her red beans and rice. “First you need a large pot…at least five quarts…”
I’ve seen the film numerous times, but only on video and that scene has always made my mouth water. Now if I ever had the pleasure of viewing Always for Pleasure at a screening where the filmmaker was in attendance and employed his gimmicky, yet sadistically ingenious technique of “Smellaround;” the addition of the actual aroma from a big pot of red beans and rice being cooked within the theater itself, the gurgling from my stomach would probably drown out the dialogue from the screen.
Instead, the film motivated me to make red beans and rice according to Irma Thomas’s recipe. I was able to find a copy of the recipe in a 1986 book called Totally Hot! The Ultimate Hot Pepper Cookbook, by Michael Goodwin, Charles Perry, and Naomi Wise (Dolphin Doubleday). The recipe, adapted by Les Blank from Irma Thomas’ recipe is much more complicated than what she recited in the film. Hers was brief and simple. I made Les Blank’s recipe from the book. The result, however, for whatever reason, was a slight disappointment.
Since then I’ve tweaked the recipe borrowing much from it, including an enormous amount of garlic. Irma Thomas suggested using a half head. Blank, who made another masterpiece in 1980, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, centered around the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, so we know where he stands on the benefits of the “stinking rose,” calls for a full head.
For what I made, I used probably three quarters of a head of garlic, In Blank’s recipe, a smoked ham hock is called for and that is what I used when I made his recipe. Thomas, in the movie suggests using “seasoning meat of your choice.” My choice for this batch of red beans was Andouille sausage. Also instead of using a big pot on the stove, I switched to a crock pot hoping the consistent, low temperature would produce better results. Beyond those changes, I’ve left much of the other red beans and rice basics intact.
So here, for your Fat Tuesday pleasure is the Neck Bones rendition of Irma Thomas’s version combined with Les Blank’s Always for Pleasure red beans and rice.
2 cups of dried red beans (one pound bag)
6 cups of water
1 lb of Andouille sausage (any other garlicky smoked sausage will work too), sliced.
2 medium onions (about 2 cups worth) chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
6 tablespoons of minced garlic (or just mince a head—depending on the size of the head)
1 tablespoon of creole seasoning*
½ teaspoon salt
Cooked white rice
Green onions, a.k.a scallions for garnish
*If you don’t have creole seasoning, you can add ½ tablespoon each of black pepper and cayenne pepper or more cayenne than black, depending on your spice preference.
If you are a reader of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries you know I prefer the easy to the difficult when it comes to my own cooking. Following that philosophy, I rarely use dried beans going the lazy route with canned beans as a substitute. For this recipe, however, I think dried beans are best because of the very long cooking time involved. So soak the beans in water at room temperature overnight and then pour off whatever water remains and rinse them again in cold water.
Put the beans in a crock pot or slow cooker and cover with the water.
Quickly sauté the sausage to cook off a bit of the fat. You don’t need to do this; you can just throw in the sausage and the excess fat will just add more flavor of the beans, But if you want to limit your fat intake somewhat, either sauté it and drain with a slotted spoon, or boil it briefly first and then add to the crock pot.
Cook the onions, celery, and bell pepper for about three minutes in the grease from the sausage and then, again with a slotted spoon, add it all to the crock pot.
Toss in the minced garlic and the Creole seasoning.
Turn the crock pot on low and cook for about eight hours until the beans are so soft they meld with the cooking liquid giving it all a creamy consistency.
Serve over cooked white rice and sprinkle with chopped green onions.
Enjoy with a cold beer or maybe borrowing from another Fat Tuesday celebration, this one in Brazil, with a cold caipirinha, the recipe for the cocktail can be found here A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut .
And for more pleasure while you eat and drink on this Fat Tuesday, below is the trailer for Always for Pleasure: