Hoppin' John - A Southern Tradition


In my first foray down south, years ago, I discovered a traditional New Year's ritual: Hoppin' John (or Hopping John, for all you uppity types). Southern lore has it that Hoppin' John is the birthright of every southerner. And it's a double edged sword. See, Hoppin' John is the dish that everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line must have on New Year's day. It ensures continual good luck for the coming year. Skip it and you risk damnation and an accursed 365 days to come. If you don't eat Hoppin' John on January 1st, well, all bets are off.

I've taken this fable to heart. I partake of Hoppin' John every New Year's day. What is consists of is black-eyed peas and rice. Some variations have the beans and rice cooked together. I prefer cooking them separately, and serving the black-eyed peas over the rice.

I assume there are as many Hoppin' John recipes as there are southern cooks. Most call for ham hocks, country ham, bacon, or ham steak added to the peas. I use ham hocks, which gives the dish an earthy flavor. So here follows the Rivera family version of a southern favorite. By the way, how the dish got its name, I have no idea. If anyone out there knows its history, please let me know.

HOPPIN' JOHN

1 pound dried black-eyed peas
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium ham hocks
1 large onion, sliced into rounds
1 red or green bell pepper (pimento), chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon oregano
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 chicken bouillon cube
4 cups water
Cooked white rice (3-4 cups)

1. Preparing the peas: initially I would soak them overnight in water, drain, and cook the next day. I've discover that a more convenient (and better way) is to cover the peas with water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil for 2 minutes. Then remove from heat, cover pan and let stand 1 hour. Finally, drain peas, rinse well, and set aside.
2. While peas are are being done, rinse ham hocks under cold running water, and pat dry. In a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil and sear ham hocks until browned. Add water just to cover ham hocks, bring to a boil, partly cover, lower heat and simmer ham hocks until tender (about 45 minutes).
3. Add peas, onion, pimento, garlic, oregano, bay leaves, salt, hot pepper sauce, bouillon, and water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer until beans are tender (about 45 minutes).
4. Serve over white rice or, if preferred, you can mix the cooked rice and beans together.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

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