As long as I can remember my family reserves the first dinner of January for black-eyed peas and cabbage. Even if you don’t care for the two dishes, you are going to at least eat a bite. When it comes to a tradition like this I do have conviction. My kids can complain all they want, but will not be allowed from the table until a spoonful of peas and a fork’s worth of cabbage is consumed. Then they can go Xbox crazy for all I care.
As a proud amateur southern cook I cannot abide a pot of black-eyed peas by themselves. The New Year’s fun revolves around tossing a clean dime in a pot of Hopping John (Hoppin’ John if it’s after five). The origin of this dish and its namesake predate the Civil War, and it likely came from a slave recipe. In its basic form we in the south recognize it as black-eyed peas, rice, and bacon. Be assured these defining ingredients can change from one region to the next.
There are some who use field peas instead of our black-eyed preference. You may see a Cuban version that makes use of black beans. I like that with a little cumin. Caribbean style is achieved with red beans and perhaps a little coconut milk for good measure. But whatever bean, pea or addition is used, it all represents the same thing: money, more specifically coins. Cabbage represents greenbacks.
Some traditions say you should leave three peas on your plate to bring fortune, luck, and romance. This was never a tradition in my house. Rather than leaving something on the plate we just tried to not get any on the walls. Sometimes I do make too large of a pot and we have leftovers. Eat this January 2 and the name changes to Skipping Jenny.
My version has evolved over the past few years. I used to make a stew of the peas, meat and veggies with enough stock to add the uncooked rice at the last 20 minutes. Nowadays I cook my rice separate. Here’s why. I prefer more hop than John, so I would rather spoon the peas over rice like gumbo for the perfect mix. It’s a fear of commitment, though I am fond of one-pot meals.
There is also the choice of bacon, sausage, ground beef, or ham for this dish. I try to keep this pig oriented but wouldn’t judge someone for using beef. Chicken would not do.
This year I am using the swine triumvirate of sausage, bacon, and ham. I’m an equal opportunist. Be careful with your seasoning. It’s very easy to over season this dish, but if your rice is cooked with plain H2O then you may want to go slightly saltier than your desire for the finished product. That rice will suck out the flavor in a hurry, but that’s what we want.
I’ve also been known to make two pots. The first is a mild mannered mixture for the masses and the second is a jalapeno and hot sauce flamethrower. It’s your party. In most cases serving some quality hot sauces on the side is sufficient. You may want to visit my column on hot sauce from earlier this year.
I prefer an overnight soak on dried peas rather than the “quick soak” method. You can still get great results with canned peas, but my advice is to buy the cheapest, least-seasoned peas you can find. The blander the peas the better. You are in control of the flavor.
1 pound black-eyed peas
½ pound of bacon
½ pound of Conecuh sausage
1 leftover hambone with meat bits
1 large onion, white or Peruvian sweet onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 tablespoon of garlic, minced
1 whole tomato, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon of Creole seasoning
½ cup of fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup of diced green onions
In a Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. Keep only about a tablespoon of grease in the pan. Discard the rest.
Add sausage, onion, bell pepper and celery cooking until tender. Add garlic and tomato and cook for two minutes. Shake on the Creole seasoning. Add the peas, the ham bone and cover with water.
Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring often until peas are creamy and tender. This will be dictated by whether or not you used dry or canned peas and the amount of soaking time.
Add parsley and green onion for fragrance and color. This dish will be a showstopper. Serve over hot rice with Louisiana Red Dot Hot Sauce or Sriracha.