(Edited to clarify when the peas go into the dish-doh!)
Hoppin’ John is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day in the Southern U.S., for good luck. The black-eyed peas are symbolic of coins or pennies, so represent prosperity. We are not Southern, but the whole family loves this dish, New Year’s or not. It makes a big enough batch that The Husband can take some in his lunch for a few days.
I started with the Hoppin’ John recipe from Joy of Cooking, but had to tweak their method some to add more flavor, because you know I cannot leave well enough alone. After some research, I have come to the conclusion that there is a Hoppin’ John recipe for every Southern grandmother, so I don’t feel at all guilty following the call of my own hypothetical Southern grandmother, and making some changes.
Hoppin’ John – inspired by Joy of Cooking
8 oz dried black-eyed peas
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 large bay leaves
3 C water
1/2 to 1 C chicken broth
2 T butter
4 slices bacon, diced
4 oz smoked ham, diced
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/4 C long-grain white rice
1/4 C minced parsley
salt and pepper
Pick over, rinse, and soak the black-eyed peas all day (or overnight). Drain and rinse; place in an oven-safe pot with a lid. I used my cast iron dutch oven, but you can use any oven-safe pot. I have also used my enameled cast-iron dutch oven, and it works nicely. Whatever your vessel of choice, add the peas, thyme, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, and water, place over medium-high heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer uncovered until the peas are just tender, at least 30 min.
Drain into a colander in a bowl to catch the cooking liquid; you want that later. Discard the bay leaves, transfer the beans to a clean bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste, cover, and set aside. Measure your cooking liquid; add enough chicken broth to make about 2 1/4 cups total liquid. Now’s a good time to preheat your oven to 325 deg. F, and position the oven rack in the center of the oven.
The first time I made Hoppin’ John, I followed the recipe like a good girl, and it called for cooking the onions and ham with the black-eyed peas. While I suppose they added a bit of flavor to the peas and cooking liquid, cooking the ham and onions in water turned them into soulless little creatures that had nothing left to give after the rice was cooked. It made me sad, so here’s what I did to change that.
In the now-empty cooking vessel, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and ham, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon and ham are browned, and have rendered their fat.
Add the onions and garlic, stir to coat with buttery, porky goodness, and cook until they have softened but not browned. I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of this; I was very focused on getting it into the oven. Stir in the rice, 1 tsp salt, and the cooking liquid, (whoops, forgot to mention, stir the peas in now as well), put the lid on, and put the pot in the oven until all the liquid has been absorbed by the rice, about 30 min., maybe more. It doesn’t hurt to check it a little early, but don’t stir it; you’ll make it sticky.
When it is done baking, remove from the oven, remove the lid (Captain Obvious), and sprinkle the minced parsley over the dish. Fluff the whole thing with a fork to blend it all together and fluff up the rice. Let stand uncovered for about 15-20 min., then serve. It is often served, both in my home, and in the South, with kale or collard greens, which also represent money (they’re green and leafy like paper money). However, it is just as good on its own, in a big bowl with some Tabasco sauce, or when I really aim to misbehave, with Sriracha sauce.
In the Rock-and-Roll-Hall-of-Fame-words of Neil Peart, lyricist/drummer of the band Rush, Lady Luck is Golden, She favors the bold. So be bold, remake a traditional recipe to suit yourself, eat some Hoppin’ John for good luck, and I’ll see you soon on down the Road.