Red Beans and Rice: Look out Popeyes!

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As some of you who read my blog regularly may know, I’m a big fan of Popeyes restaurant’s red beans and rice. There is something about the creamy, smoky, spicy flavor that just hits the spot, and makes going into a fast-food place worth it every once in a while. But of course I’m also very into organic and healthy food, so I set out to find a recipe I could make at home with my own ingredients.

I found a surprising amount of activity online, with people claiming to have the “real” recipe. I even tried one that involved rendering the fat from a ham hock and adding it to a can of beans with a few other added spices. It was not good. So I gave up for a while.

Then the other day I woke up in the morning with a eureka moment of insight. What if I cook the beans with the ham hock? So I tried it and it was good. Very good! And simple. Oh so simple. It’s the kind of thing I would make once a week for dinner, if all my kids would eat it. It was even the first time I successfully soaked beans overnight! I used red kidney beans, since I looked high and low for dried “red beans” and couldn’t find them. I’m curious if the two are actually separate varieties (please let me know, if you know for sure!).

So here’s my recipe:

Maria’s Red Beans and Rice


1 pound dried red kidney beans
Lots of water
1 organic smoky ham hock
Salt to taste
Brown rice
Cayenne pepper and olive oil (optional)


1. Put the dried beans in a pot and cover liberally with water, and let them soak overnight.
A few hours before you’re ready to eat, drain the beans and put them back in the pot with the ham hock and salt, and cover with new water.

2. Cook the beans and ham slowly and steadily for two to three hours. Mash up some of the beans with a potato masher or the back of a spoon.

3. Cook the brown rice with butter (use whatever amount you’re comfortable with, but honestly, the more the better).

4. Layer the beans and rice in a bowl and enjoy!

If you prefer them spicy (which Popeyes’ are), put some cayenne pepper powder in a small skillet (I prefer cast-iron) with a little olive oil and heat until it sizzles (don’t let it burn). Pour over the rice and bean mixture to your desired hotability. Or just add your favorite hot sauce.

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21 Responses to Red Beans and Rice: Look out Popeyes!

  1. KathyW September 18, 2009 at 10:11 am #

    No onions, no garlic, no bay leaf??? A sacrilege to true New Orleans cooking!

  2. Amanda September 18, 2009 at 10:36 am #

    Your recipe sounds yummo! But, when we’re in a hurry, there is a quick and dirty version that’s pretty good:

    2 cans black beans
    1/2-1 onion, chopped
    1 bay leaf
    1-2 tsp ground cumin
    sprinkle – 1/2 tsp cayene
    1-2 tbl organic/nitrate-free bacon grease (we save in a jar in the freezer after making breakfast)
    salt and pepper

    Melt bacon grease in pan and brown onions. Drop in bay leaf, cumin and cayene and stir to coat onions. Drain beans and dump in. Salt liberaly and pepper to taste.

    Cook brown rice per instructions, but substitute beef stock for water in recipe. (Can also add another bay leaf here if you like.)

    Layer beans and rice and dig in. Mmmmmmm!

  3. TiffanyH September 18, 2009 at 10:44 am #

    Yes, red beans and red kidney beans are one in the same!

  4. deb September 18, 2009 at 10:45 am #

    bacon grease…?

  5. Cheryl September 18, 2009 at 11:07 am #

    You can actually buy beans called “small red beans,” which are smaller than kidneys. Also, for you vegetarians, a few drops of liquid smoke add a nice flavor, as do some chipotle peppers.

  6. Anonymous September 18, 2009 at 1:42 pm #

    Guess my Mama n Daddy didn’t know they were cooking something so good. I grew up on red kidney beans cooked with a ham hock or slab of salt pork but we ate with fried potatos.

  7. pandoras_boqs September 18, 2009 at 2:05 pm #

    I too was raised on red beans and rice, coming from a latin background ours always included olive oil, onions, garlic, cumin and bay leaf. We used either ham, hock, or chorizo to flavor the beans. Another delicious option is to use great northern beans with the same seasonings, add fresh or frozen chopped collard greens and serve over rice. Delicious winter dinner!!!!!!!

  8. Donna in Delaware September 18, 2009 at 6:17 pm #

    I too grew up in the south, but we didn’t eat red beans and rice, or dirty rice or jambalaya or any such dish. I guess we were too ‘northern’ for that, but that doesn’t mean no one in Virginia ate it. Some of my grandparent’s and parent’s friends did since they were from the deep south. We’ve always eaten smoked hocks or smoked turkey necks and wings to season greens, lentils and beans. I find that liquid smoke, when cooked for some time, loses it’s smokiness to some degree and become very mild to no flavor at all. My sister-in-law is from the West Indies and they haave a small red bean such as mentioned by Cheryl, that they use in their red beans and rice. It is not a kidney bean, I don’t believe. But it is good the Jamaican way also.

  9. Peggy S. September 19, 2009 at 8:38 am #

    I agree with Kathy W. You need some onion and garlic. Having been born and raised in New Orleans everyone has their own recipe but my husband says mine is the best he has ever had. He had better! I don’t live in New Orleans now so it’s hard to get Camellia brand red beans which are really just small red kidney beans. I think these are better than the large red kidney beans. Did you know about the tradition of having Red Beans and Rice on Mondays in New Orleans? Monday was laundry day so a pot of beans was put on in the morning to simmer all day long. They were ready by dinner time. The most important thing to remember is that this can not be rushed. I have found that some brands of beans soften up quicker than others so allow at least 4 hours cooking time. You can always reaheat if they are finished before you want to serve them. Here is my basic recipe.

    1 lb. small red beans
    1 large onion diced
    1 large bell pepper diced
    3 ribs celery diced
    at least 2 cloves of garlic diced (I put 4 or 5)
    2 bay leaves
    2-3 smoked ham hocks
    1 lb. cubed ham or andouille sausage (optional)

    You can soak the beans overnight if you wish. Discard the water and rinse after soaking. This just makes the cooking time shorter. It is not required.
    Place all ingredients except the smoked ham or andouille in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Turn to a simmer and cook until the beans are soft. Add water as needed. After beans are done mash up about 1/3 cup of beans and return to pot. The mashed beans is what gives the beans that creamy consistency. Pull the meat off the ham hocks and return to pot. Discard bones and fat. Add the ham or andouille and salt and pepper to taste. Return to stove and cook for at least 30 minutes or until ready to serve. Add more water if the beans start getting too thick.
    Serve over a bed of rice. Don’t forget a crusty loaf of French bread and your favorite hot sauce (we prefer Crystal).

    Laissez Le Bon Ton Roulet!

  10. Maria (farm country kitchen) September 19, 2009 at 1:11 pm #

    Monday is laundry day in my house, too!


  11. Rebecca September 20, 2009 at 9:06 am #

    Ham hocks from our local Amish market are so very, very much better than the general supermarket ones. This sounds like my black-eyed-pea recipe to which I add garlic, onion, and little bits of carrot, red and green pepper and celery too.

  12. Donna in Delaware September 22, 2009 at 6:27 am #

    Rebecca is right on. I also get my ham hocks from the Amish markets at the Farmer’s Market in Boothwyn, Pa. Meatier, smokier and bigger than any supermarket. I’ll bring some to my mother in Va. at the end of October because she says that they are too small where she gets hers. They are big enough to halve and cook with something else. Excellent!

  13. Donna in Delaware September 22, 2009 at 7:10 am #

    To Peggy S,

    You can order Camellia Brand Red Beans on-line from the Happy eating!

  14. Peggy S. September 24, 2009 at 3:44 pm #

    Thanks Donna!

  15. Donna in DE September 25, 2009 at 8:42 pm #

    My pleasure Peggy.

  16. Barbara September 28, 2009 at 2:07 pm #

    Small red beans, and the ones I use when I make my vegetarian version of red beans and rice, are adzuki (sometimes spelled azuki or aduki) beans. You may need to go to a specialty or natural food store to find them.

  17. Elaine in Missouri City, TX November 5, 2009 at 1:41 am #

    I want to thank all of your postings regarding red beans and rice. I especially want to thank Peggy S. for her post. I love the red beans and rice and decided to make them myself from ground up. I bought the small dried red beans and will use your receipe.

    Barbara mentions making hers a vegetarian version. What do you use when making yours?

  18. Lynn in Norway February 17, 2010 at 7:25 am #

    I have heard that if beans are old, they take a lot longer to cook. Buy your dried beans at a local farmer’s marekt or store that you know has good turnaround, check the date if there is one on the package to make sure they are fairly fresh.

  19. Antami August 17, 2010 at 11:31 am #

    Popeyes beans are to my family, the BEST! We can’t get enough! Like many of you, I was raised eating “red beans” but in Texas, we don’t use Kidney beans, we use Pinto beans. They cook up much more tender than cousin Kidney. As grayish as the Popeyes beans are, I always considered them Pinto’s anyway. The ham hocks are definitely a must and for sure, bacon drippings if you don’t have the hocks. Don’t forget the cornbread! Thanks for the recipe.

  20. Gina May 29, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    Can’t wait to try your recipe Peggy S. Thanks!

  21. Corinne March 5, 2015 at 11:11 am #

    Thanks for all the tips. Like everyone here, I absolutely love Popeye’s red beans and rice and wondered what made them so good! I also thought the “mushy” texture was from cooking it a long time, but apparently it’s from mashing most of the beans. The liquid smoke idea is brilliant! Since everyone is talking about cooking beans, just thought I’d mention that for at least some beans, especially kidney beans, unless you parboil and rinse them, draining the water off, certain naturally occurring toxins (Phytohaemagglutinin) can be concentrated during the cooking process. This is a particular concern when using crock pots. The problem is not achieving a hot enough temperature; if they are boiled (not simmered) for at least 10 minutes, you are good to go!

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