This week on How We Eat — the Eater original series exploring American regional dishes and the stories behind them — the crew pulls into the Big Easy for a master class in red beans and rice. A traditional Creole meal with a long history in New Orleans, red beans and rice recipes are as varied as the people who make the comforting meal, and everyone claims their family’s method is best. Dr. Jessica Harris, a culinary historian with a focus in African cuisine; Chris Montero, executive chef of Napoleon House; and Leah Chase, New Orleans icon and chef at Dooky Chase, weigh in on the subject in the segment above.
While the dish’s origins are uncertain, many claim that the technique of combining rice with beans into a stew-like meal is a product of Africa, brought to the United States as a result of the slave trade. (Residents of Senegal were even targeted during raids and prized in sales due to their knowledge and skill in rice farming.) Decades later, once red beans and rice had cemented itself as a staple in New Orleans’ culinary makeup, it was known as a Monday, or wash-day meal, because it could be made using the same hot coals used to heat clothes-washing water. “And you didn’t have to watch them,” Chase says. “They just boiled until they got cooked.”