New Orleans Red Beans and Rice


Born in New Orleans in 1901, Louis Armstrong, considered to be the founding father of jazz, loved Red Beans and Rice. He adored this dish so much that he signed all of his letters “Am red beans and ricely yours”

Almost every restaurant in New Orleans serves a version of this comforting icon. I have tried many a rendition of this soul-satisfying meal, but nothing compares to my mother’s. Born and raised in the Crescent City, she made a mean pot of beans … the best I have ever tasted! I make mom’s red beans and rice every New Years Day (give or take), during Mardi Gras season and any other time during the year I have a craving for this delicious comfort food.

You will need to soak the beans with salt overnight (24 hours) or rather “brine” the beans, a more accurate term, so be sure to plan ahead for this necessary and important step. If you’ve ever made a pot of beans that weren’t quite tender, no matter how many hours you cooked them and the outer skins remained tough with many even bursting, this recipe will give you favorable results every time.

When you add salt to the soaking water, it begins the hydration process which works on tenderizing the beans from the outside-in by softening the skins. Additionally, by slowly cooking the beans (allowing the water to be absorbed gradually) with salt, the results will be a tender, creamy and delicious pot of beans.

Red Beans and Rice is traditionally served on Mondays. For many Louisiana family’s, Sunday dinner centered around a ham, so it made perfect sense to use the bone for the following day’s meal. Even after my siblings and I grew up and were on our own, if ham was being served at mom’s, the negotiations began for the coveted bone.


  • 2 pounds red beans
  • 11 cups cold water
  • 5 tablespoons course salt (for soaking)
  • 1/2 cup onions, diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds smoked ham shank or ham bone
  • White Rice


Pick over beans, discard any bad ones as well as any small stones.


Bad bean surrounded by good beans.





Rinse beans and drain.




Place in a large pot (which you’ll use to cook the beans)

Cover the beans completely with cold water and 5 tablespoons course salt. Cover and let soak on the counter overnight (24 hours).
The next day, drain and rinse the beans. Put back in the pot with the water, onion, bay leaves and salt.

Bring to a boil, skim foam that rises to the surface. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for one hour.
Add the ham shank and 1 -2 cups of water (depending on the desired consistency) and cook for another hour.

Remove the shank, when cool enough to handle remove the meat from the bone, add to the pot of beans.
Cook a few minutes to warm the ham. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with white rice. Leftovers can be reheated and may need the addition of water to regain the desired consistency.