As a southerner, I’ve had Hoppin’ John—rice and black-eyed peas with pork—on New Year’s Day nearly every year of my entire life. Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day is supposed to bring luck (although no one’s quite sure why), and I’m certain that even when I was an infant my grandmother mashed up the peas and rice for me to ensure that I’d be lucky.
This is real-deal southern cooking, and there are as many recipes as there are southerners. In my version, I make a rice pilaf separately from the peas so that the rice stays firmer and fluffier than it would if they were cooked together or if the rice were just steamed. I also cook the peas in chicken broth instead of water for some extra flavor. The result is a bowl of hearty goodness, which, lucky or not, is the perfect way to start a new year.
Need To Know
Buy dried black-eyed peas from a store with high turnover. You can count on recently harvested dried peas to cook up quickly and be tender.
Add salt early. The notion of salt slowing down the cooking process is a myth. Dried beans cook faster when salt is added at the beginning because it helps break down their cell walls.
Enhance the broth. Simmering the pork along with the peas gives the broth a deeper flavor for tastier beans.
Fresh black-eyed peas are another option. There’s no need to soak them, and they’ll cook faster than dried, so you should simmer the pork in the broth for about 20 minutes before adding the peas to get the full flavor. avoid canned or frozen peas—they’ll turn mushy in this recipe.
Bake the pilaf in the oven. Rice pilaf can be cooked on the stovetop or in the oven, but the oven provides even heat distribution so the pilaf comes out fluffy, with separate grains.
Garnish Hoppin’ John with pickled banana peppers, which add a pop of color, heat, and acidity. It’s also traditionally served with hot sauce—any good southern brand like Crystal, Tabasco, or Texas Pete will do.
Several Types of Pork Will Work
I like to keep my options open, so I’ve included several choices for the pork component in my Hoppin’ John recipe. here’s a guide to help you pick.
Hog jowl Arguably the most traditional cut of pork to use (and my favorite), jowl comes from the cheek of the pig and is often smoked. A very fatty cut, it will result in rich Hoppin’ John studded with tender little pieces of pork.
Bacon Thick-cut bacon makes a good, easy-to- find substitute for hog jowl. It gives the final dish a smoky flavor, and chewy little pieces of bacon add texture.
Ham hock Ham hocks, which come from the lower leg, are most often sold smoked and cured. They’re also traditional and will add ham flavor to the hoppin’ John.
Salt pork Like bacon, this comes from the side or belly of the pig, but instead of being smoked, it’s cured in salt, which leaves it much fattier. It won’t give the Hoppin’ John a smoky flavor, as the other meats do, but it’s rich and flavorful.