I just love traditions, especially the ones that have long ago outlived their reason for being. Red beans and rice on Mondays in New Orleans. Back in the day, Monday was wash day and the women of the house could leave a pot of red beans simmering on the stove all day while they did their laundry. It’s still red beans and rice day on Mondays in New Orleans.

Now here’s the thing you may not know. Many people in New Orleans will blush to tell you this, but the absolute best rendition of red beans and rice in their opinion is at Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits. Really. Mark and I have been known to travel extensive distances to a Popeye’s expressly to devour the red beans and rice.

So the other day Mark comes home bearing two giant grocery bags. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what he has in mind. I won’t even tell you about the time he decided to make the Puerco Pibil in one of Robert Rodriguez’s movies. Let’s just say it involved mail ordering banana leaves which arrived in a decidedly rotting state. This time, though, Mark was inspired. He found a recipe that mimics Popeye’s red beans and rice.

Of course it involved pork fat, the kind rendered from two smoked ham hocks. I am giving you the recipe (below) as we read it from a Cajun cooking website. But I will tell you that it took nowhere near the 4 to 5 hours recommended to get the rendered pork fat. Secondly, the recipe calls for converted rice. Ordinarily, I would turn up my nose at this, but as it turns out that is precisely the correct rice to use. Lastly, the recipe calls for using the entire contents of the second can of beans including the juice. We found that the beans were quite soupy enough without adding the liquid from the second can.

The red beans and rice were totally delicious and very close to the Popeye’s version. The only casualty of the day was my Pyrex dish, which somehow found its way to the kitchen floor after Mark drained the fat out of it. Oh, well. A small price to pay for such bliss.

Popeye’s Red Beans and Rice Clone (from www.cajuncookingrecipes.com)

2 pounds smoked ham hocks
2 15-ounce cans red beans
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
dash garlic powder
dash onion powder

2 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup converted rice

1. First you must render the fat from the smoked ham hocks. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and place the ham hocks in a deep pan. Cover pan with foil and bake for 4 to 5 hours or until 1/4 cup of fat has rendered from the hocks.

2. Combine 1/4 cup pork fat with one 15-ounce can red beans plus liquid in a medium saucepan. Add 1/2 cup water, brown sugar, 1/8 teaspoon salt, garlic powder, and onion powder. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Use a potato masher to smash beans into a paste-like consistency. Add entire contents of remaining can of beans to the mixture and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

3. Prepare rice for 4 servings. For Uncle Ben’s converted rice you bring 2 1/4 cups water to a boil. Add 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add 1 cup of rice, reduce heat to low and simmer rice for 20 minutes or until tender.

4. To prepare each serving scoop 1 cup of beans into a bowl. Add 1 cup of rice on top of the beans and serve.

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