Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hoppin' John

This recipe really does have some history! 
     Hoppin' John's roots come from the West African black eyed pea or field pea stews and soups.  Hoppin' John has to become a traditional southern New Years Eve dish and a soul food staple.  Hoppin' John has filled many a belly with warm comfort. 
     In Africa, the whole black eyed peas in a stew represented wealth.  He who had the most whole black eyed peas was to become the wealthiest in the future.  From Tennessee to Georgia, Hoppin' John's main ingredient, black eyed peas, were a symbol to bring good luck in the new year too.  Again, the amount of whole black eyed peas represented good fortune and luck in the future. 
     The recipe changes from state to state in the American south.  A Hoppin' John recipe can change from one home to the next too.  Some prefer rice in Hoppin' John.  Some like no rice.  Some like ham hocks in the recipe. Some prefer hog jowls.  Some people like to add collard greens or turnip greens to the recipe.  The four required ingredients in Hoppin' John are ham hock or hog jowl, black eyed peas, onion and hot chile pepper.  Some say rice is required, but its not in every Hoppin' John. 
     Hoppin' John is a nice side dish for any holiday, especially Thanksgiving.  My North Carolina family's traditional recipe is made with no rice.  I made a Tennessee style Hoppin' John recipe with rice and no greens for this recipe blog entry. 
     Recipe:  Cut a large thick piece of smoked hog jowl. 
     Sizzle the hog jowl in just a little bit of unsalted butter over medium high heat. 
     Cook until the hog jowl is thoroughly browned. 
     Add a little bit each of chopped onion, chopped red bell pepper and chopped green bell pepper. 
     Add two thick sliced serrano chile peppers. 
     Stir the ingredients till the onions are cooked clear and starting to caramelize. 
     Add enough water to cover the piece of hog jowl. 
     Add some fully cooked dried black eyed peas or quality canned black eyed peas. 
     Add a little bit of sea salt and black pepper.
     Add a pinch of marjoram and thyme leaf. 
     Add a dash of paprika and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper. 
     Let the stew simmer rapidly over medium high heat. 
     After the broth reduces a little bit, add some brown rice.  (Bleached rice was a luxury in the old days.  Brown rice adds a rustic touch and a better flavor to this dish.) 
     Let the rice cook and continue to cook the Hoppin' John over medium high heat. 
     As the rice cooks, it is required to stir the stew occasionally to keep it from burning or sticking to the pan. 
     Add a splash of water if necessary.
     Continue to cook the stew till most of the broth is evaporated or soaked up by the rice.  (Over cooking the rice is more than acceptable for a Hoppin' John recipe.  So don't worry about the rice cooking soft.) 
     When you can easily see the ingredients poking through the surface of a tiny amount of the broth, then the Hoppin' John is done cooking. 
     Some of the black eyed peas will turn to mush and become part of the "gravy." 
     The southern or soul food flavor of Hoppin' John is mildly hot spicy and very savory from the hog jowl and black eyed peas.  The smoked hog jowl meat is very tender after stewing and it has such a great flavor. 
     This Hoppin' John recipe will make you feel warm and comfortable.  If you serve this on New Years Eve, be sure to count the whole black eyed peas in the Hoppin' John to see how wealthy you will be in the new year!  The African roots of this recipe still remain, giving good luck and bringing good fortune.  Delicious food for the soul!  Yum!  ...  Shawna          

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