Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hoppin' John Yall!

Since this blog is a resolution of sorts for me, I figure what better way to kick it off than with a helping of Hoppin’ John?

“Eat poor that day, eat rich the rest of the year.
Rice for riches and peas for peace.”
- Southern saying on eating a dish of Hoppin' John on New Year's Day.

I’ve spent several years of my life in the south, but was introduced to this dish by my ex-stepmother in one of my last years there. Granted, her blasphemous version was served straight out of a can, but perhaps it’s better that way considering her skills around the kitchen.

Since then, I’d always had the idea of this dish stored away in my memory banks but had never set out to prepare it before. It just so happened that this year, my husband managed to find and bring home a couple of awesome smoked hocks and I knew immediately what I had to do with them..

Hoppin’ John is a dish of African/Caribbean origin and has been eaten throughout the south as the traditional New Year’s meal since as far back as the mid 1800’s. It is thought that the black-eyed peas used in the dish resemble coins, and therefore has a connotation of prosperity.

Other traditions involved with serving Hoppin’ John is to place a coin in the pot, and whomever finds the coin in their serving is thought to be the beneficiary of extra good luck that year. Also, it is a common practice to leave behind three peas on your plate to assure your New Year will be full of Luck, Fortune and Romance.

There are a few different theories as to how the dish earned its moniker. Some are…

…It was the custom for children to gather in the dining room as the dish was brought forth and hop around the table before sitting down to eat.

… A man named John came "a-hoppin" when his wife took the dish from the stove.

…An obscure southern custom was inviting a guest to eat by saying, "Hop in, John".

…The dish was originally hawked in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina by a crippled black man who was know as “Hoppin' John”.

The dish is very commonly served with a side of wilted greens (to symbolize money/wealth) and cornbread (to symbolize gold – again with the prosperity theme). And depending on the cook, rice is generally served as well either on the side or cooked right in with the beans.

This cook however, decided to leave the rice out all together. This was my first attempt at making this dish and I daresay it turned out rather well. I kept it simple as possible. I cooked the beans and hock in my slowcooker to save gas for my stove, which is notorious for running out in the middle of preparing a meal (and I am no good at replacing the canister). I did the finishing simmer on the stovetop, after sautéing onions, shallots and garlic (and adding in more ham – I only used one hock because I didn’t want the smokiness to take over the dish by using two like some recipes call for).

I was on the look for collards in the grocery store but the best I found was spinach (which I rather prefer anyhow). I also looked for cornmeal but alas; all I could find was a packaged mix. I did a scampi-style prep for the greens and baked the cornbread in my trusty cast iron skillet. The cornbread was woeful but I plan on ordering some real cornmeal very soon.

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Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

And this is basically the same recipe I used except I let them sit in the crock all day, as I said before. Beans are best soaked overnight in the refrigerator. Or if you didn’t plan that far ahead, you can do the quick soak method described below

2 cups dried black-eyed peas
Cold water
1 pound lean slab bacon or 1 pound meaty ham hocks
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups water or chicken broth
2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
Salt and black pepper to taste

Before preparing dried beans, sort through them thoroughly for tiny pebbles or other debris. Soak, rinse, and drain dried black-eyed peas. Place black-eyed peas in a large soup pot over medium-high heat and cover with cold water; bring to a boil. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 1 to 2 hours. Drain and rinse beans.

Using the same large soup pot, over medium-high heat, add soaked black-eyed peas, bacon or ham hock, onion, and red pepper. Add water or chicken broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the peas are tender (do not boil as the beans will burst).

Remove bacon or ham hock and cut into bite-size pieces. Return meat to pot. Stir in rice, cover, and cook 20 to 25 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 8 servings.

ETA: Something I also found that was amusing about the dish is if you eat it for leftovers the next day it's called "Skippin' Jenny" and if you replace the black-eyed peas for blackbeans it's called "Hoppin' Juan". :D