For a Runner, Red Beans and Rice


Photo by WordRidden/FlickrCC

Week 6
Total Mileage: 26 miles
Weekend Meal: Logan Mosby's red beans and rice

Sometimes a beloved dish is easy to recreate. It took only one try to make a lemon icebox pie that rivaled the one I met in Mississippi.

Other times, it's not so simple.

Week 6 was another step-back week in my training program, when overall mileage goes down to help prevent injury and overtraining. Though my weekend runs slipped back into the single digits—six miles on Saturday and nine on Sunday—my appetite was as strong as ever. When it came time to plan my big weekend meal, I wanted something filling.

The most impressive part was the smokiness, which infused the entire dish—not just the sausage scattered throughout.

I flipped through the latest issue of Cooks Illustrated for inspiration and saw plenty of recipes that fit the bill: pulled pork, hearty minestrone soup, Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. But one jumped off the page, screaming my name: red beans and rice.

Like lemon icebox pie, red beans and rice is a dish I'd never encountered until I moved to Mississippi after college. Logan Mosby, the den mother of the newspaper where I worked during the later part of my time there, would make a big batch of it and have people over to her house for dinner. The first time I accepted an invitation to red beans and rice night, I was apprehensive. I associated rice and beans with bland camping trip food, but one bite of Logan's take on the dish banished all thoughts of dinners prepared over a tiny propane stove. The beans were firm and intact, not mushy with broken skins, and each component—the beans, the slices of sausage, the rice—had its own distinct texture . The most impressive part was the smokiness, which infused the entire dish—not just the sausage scattered throughout.

Logan gave me her recipe soon after I moved to DC, but I never made it because it requires a slow cooker, which I don't have. So when I saw the Cooks Illustrated recipe, I was overjoyed at the chance to make a taste of Mississippi on a dreary winter weekend. The recipe's ingredients made the dish look promising: it called for bacon, andouille sausage, cayenne pepper, and red wine vinegar, and the recipe author promised "a version to make any Cajun cook proud."

But after more than three hours of preparation—which included an hour for quick-brining the red beans, followed by two hours on the stove as they simmered in chicken stock with bacon, sausage, spices, and a range of vegetables—I was nervous. I took a spoonful of the broth, and it tasted good, but the beans themselves were flavorless. Although the recipe said the mixture should be thick and creamy, these red beans were soupy. I considered letting them cook longer, but I worried that would cause the beans to split their skins—plus, it was almost time to leave for church, where I planned to serve the beans at the weekly potluck dinner. I mixed the rice into the pot, put a lid on it, and headed out the door.

After the service was over and I settled into my seat at the potluck, I took a bite of the beans and rice. As I feared, instead of being transported to Logan's living room in Leland, I was back in a Crazy Creek chair somewhere in the Catskills. It wasn't bad so much as bland—the bacon, sausage, and cayenne pepper had failed to give the entire creation the smokiness I so loved in Logan's version. And the rice had soaked up most of the brothiness, leaving the dish a starchy, gelatinous mess.

Though my red beans and rice did not live up to Logan's high standards, it was a potluck hit—when I went to retrieve the pot on my way out, it was empty but for a few stray rice grains on the sides. That made me feel a little better about the three hours I'd spent at the stove, but next time I want to take a trip down Mississippi memory lane, I'm making lemon icebox pie. Or investing in a slow cooker.