Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

"In a story that inspired the title of her book, A Date with a Dish, Freda DeKnight recalled that Louis Armstrong, the 'modern Gabriel,' loved spicy foods and was known for a signature salutation: 'Red beans and ricely yours.' She captured his sentiments in a short story, 'The Man, the Horn and Red Beans': 'My favorite of all dishes (when I’m not on my diet and watching my calories) is just plain ham hocks and red beans,' Armstrong said. 'Old man, season them well! Add the right spices at the right time, and man, you have a ‘Date with a Dish’ that’s just about the greatest.'

There was a time when a leftover ham bone from Sunday dinner made Monday red beans and rice day, but Louis Armstrong was a man on the move who cooked and ate in different cities all the time. Ham hocks helped him keep the tradition alive.

The size and type of chile pepper you use will determine how much spice is in the dish. If you like it hot, select a larger pepper, or choose Scotch bonnet, a high scorer on the Scoville scale, which measures a pepper’s burn." —James Beard Award Winner Toni Tipton-Martin, Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking


  • 2 tablespoons bacon drippings or vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 small fresh red chile pepper, minced
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (5 to 6 cloves)
  • 1 pound dried small red or kidney beans, picked over for stones, rinsed, soaked in water overnight, and drained
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound smoked ham hocks or 1 baked ham bone
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup minced parsley
  • 1/2 cup minced green onions
  • Freshly cooked rice, to serve


In a skillet, heat the bacon fat over medium-high heat. Add the chile pepper, onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 6 minutes.

In a medium pot, combine 8 cups water, the sautéed vegetables, drained beans, bay leaf, and ham hocks. Stir to mix well. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 2 hours. Season with the salt and pepper and continue to cook until the beans are tender, about 1 hour longer. Remove and discard the bay leaf.

Remove the ham hocks or ham bone from the beans to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to remove the meat from the bone and coarsely chop the meat (discard any skin, fat, and bones). Stir the meat, parsley, and green onions into the beans, taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve the beans and ham over hot cooked rice.

Variation:  to make soulful red beans and rice as chef Austin Leslie does in the Chez Helene: House of Good Food Cookbook, substitute picked pork rib tips for the ham hocks, and stir in 1/2 cup butter before serving.

Excerpted from Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin (Clarkson Potter). Copyright © 2019.



8 servings