When it's made right, red beans and rice is one of the most satisfying meals there is. It was also the first meal I made in New Orleans ... in a microwave, with boxed mix and canned alligator.
It came out better this time.
One of the things my meatless Lent did for me was give me a more developed sense of which dishes really need meat. It's not always as clear-cut as you think. You can make a perfectly reasonable vegetarian meal with red beans on top of rice ... but it's just not Louisiana red beans and rice. The meat, even if you don't use much of it, makes too great a difference.
Traditionally you make this on Monday with the leftover ham bone from Sunday. But I think ham hocks actually work better than a ham bone, because of the skin and the amount of gelatin they contribute -- that's what you can't replicate without meat. That's what you need here.
I smoked my own ham hocks for this. That helped. Really they're not even ham hocks, in that they're not cured -- I just put pigs' feet in the stovetop smoker for the afternoon, and when they were smoked, I simmered them in a pot of water for a few hours, until the skin went from leathery to tender to totally falling apart.
At that point, you strain the pork out of the stock and put it aside to cool a bit. Saute onion and a little celery in some pork fat in your bean pot, and add the stock, a bay leaf, a little sriracha, and enough Tony Chachere's seasoning mix to salt the beans, and bring to a boil; add red beans (I used Rancho Gordo's sangre de toro, which are perfect for this), cover, and boil for five minutes. Toss in a 275 degree oven for an hour and a half or so. After cooking, let sit, covered, for an hour or more.
Meanwhile pick the bones out of the pigs' feet -- there are lots of little ones -- and mince the meat and skin. Add it back to the beans whenever -- while they cook, after they've cooked, any time is good.
Adjust seasonings once the beans are cooked. Serve over rice with some Tabasco sauce. Ideally you'd have some pickled onions here, but I didn't have any.