Red Beans and Rice (It's gray, it's chilly, this is bright and spicy)

It's nearly the end of March, and though we had a week of very lovely and mild weather, more normal weather has resumed - blustery, rainy, and gray as can be. There is hardly a striation in the clouds, it's that gray. I don't know if I can use striation in that previous sentence, but I did anyway. Anyway, it's kind of depressing, but to cheer myself, I make things like red beans and rice. Some will look at this recipe and call me a blasphemer of the south because this recipe uses bacon instead of sausage or ham, but I really love it this way. Unfortunately, I have no idea where this recipe originates from, though my best guess is that it's from a newspaper in either Chicago or Greensboro. It's a recipe I've had for quite a while, and makes for a delicious, satiating meal. Even better, it improves with age, and you can eat the leftovers for two days straight, or rather I can eat the leftovers for two days straight, which is a personal record, as I generally tire quickly of the same anything.

This is a fairly simple meal to make, though there's a lot of prep work involved ... do it ahead of time and you can pretend you're a television chef, adding prepped bowls of this and that. Sadly, no sous chef is going to do the work for you, unless you have a helpful kid around, or a partner who owes you a favor.

You will need a large (4-6 quarts) heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, cutting board, knives, bowls for holding your chopped stuff, and a shot glass for measuring out your Tabasco. Believe me, it's much easier than trying to shake it into a measuring spoon.

Go to the grocery store and in the vegetable area, grab two small peppers, one red, one orange or yellow, or get fancy and get all three colors, but use half of one yellow and one orange with the red.  Also buy one bunch of scallions (aka green onions), a large yellow onion, and a garlic bulb.

At the meat counter, buy four slices of thick sliced bacon. You could buy a package of bacon and use that, but I really prefer the thickness here, plus I find the skinnier bacon more challenging to dice while raw. Don't go too lean on the bacon, the fattiness is a good thing for coating the rice.

You will also need two 15 ounce cans of red beans. Not kidney beans or chili beans, these are just called red beans, you'll find them in the bean section.

Pantry staples you need are a cup of long grain rice, two cups of chicken broth (if you only have one can, which is just over 14 ounces, you could always use water for the last two ounces ... but I always use all broth - also, I always use low sodium broth from the store. I'm sure if you made your own that would taste super awesome, but who has time for that? At any rate, I figure I can always add salt later if I need to, but regular sodium broth might be too salty to begin with, at least for me.), Tabasco, and salt.

Really, I'm not kidding when I say prep before you get started. There are a lot of things to chop up:

Chop the two (or one and two halves) small peppers with a good kitchen knife; mine looks like of like this. I like mine kind of large, but some people might prefer more of a dice. What's the difference you might ask? Read more here. I had a small pepper languishing in the fridge, so I chopped it up as well. Set aside in a bowl.

Rinse your knife (do this before you chop anything new, and your cutting board too), chop your onion to the same shape, or smaller if you prefer. Set aside in a bowl.

Slice 1/4 cup's worth of green onions. I make the slices pretty skinny, about a 1/16 - 1/8 inch. Set aside, or put in the fridge, because you won't use these until the very end.

Chop a clove of garlic (I use two, because I do love the garlic), and add it to the onion bowl.

Finally, chop your four slices of bacon. I do this by stacking two pieces of bacon on top of each other, slicing lengthwise down the center, then chopping 1/2 inch pieces. You'll see why the thick cut bacon is the best, when you are suffering at the cutting board with your skinny bacon. Learn from my experience.

Measure one cup of long grain rice. Measure two cups of chicken broth into a pourable container. Shake a tablespoon of Tabasco into the shot glass. I'm pretty sure a Tbs is about half a normal sized shot glass. That's what I always use. You can always add more later. Just a note if you think it's not enough: I find that the next day, the rice has soaked up more of the Tabasco, and it tastes quite a bit spicier. Be forewarned, wimpy spice people. Measure 1/2 tsp salt and set aside. I use sea salt in this recipe.

Finally, drain and rinse the beans in a colander.
I think you're ready to get cooking.

Cook your diced bacon in the pot over medium-high heat (7ish on the electric stove) until it's crisp. As you probably know if you've ever cooked bacon, it will produce its own cooking oil - or grease, as some might say. Watch it and stir it now and again so the bacon doesn't stick. When it's brown and crisp, take the pot off the heat and remove the bacon a paper towel on a plate to drain. Use a slotted spoon or something with holes to do this, because you want to keep the grease in the pot. If it seems like a ton of grease, you might want to pour some into a jar. I guess I usually have about one tablespoon, maybe one and a half, of grease in the bottom of the pot after I remove the bacon.

Put the pot back on the medium (6-7 electric) heat, and add the onion and garlic. Cook this for five minutes and stir it often - you do not want your onions / garlic to brown - they'll be shiny from the grease, and that will be awesome. After five minutes, make sure your salt, broth and Tabasco are in reaching distance, then stir in the rice. Cook this for two minutes and stir CONSTANTLY, just like with risotto.

After two minutes, add the salt, broth, and Tabasco. Stir, then bring this to a boil over high heat (8-9 electric). When it comes to a full boil, reduce the heat to low (1-2-3 electric). Cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes. This is when your rice absorbs the broth.

After the 15 or so minutes, take off the lid, and add in the peppers, beans, and bacon. Now you see why such a large pot is so important. Stir everything to combine, and cook another five or so minutes, until your rice is tender. I find I usually let it cook on low maybe 10 to 15 minutes, because I like the peppers to soften up a bit too.

Take off the heat, and stir in the scallions you previously chopped. Holy goodness. This is SO good. One of my favorites, and really very simple work to create something so delicious. Enjoy. Preferably with a beer.

Hey, good news. The sun just came out. 

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