Thursday, January 1, 2015

Hoppin' John

     Hoppin' John!
     Hoppin' John has a long history of bringing good luck!  The roots of Hoppin' John comes from West African black eyed pea stews or field pea stews.  West African slow cooked bean stews are savory and delicious.  In Africa, the whole unbroken black eyed peas in a stew represented wealth.  He who has the most whole unbroken black eyed peas in their bowl, was destined to become the wealthiest of the tribe in the future!

     Hoppin' John was a main staple African American cuisine during the age of slavery.  Beans and rice is easy to like and Hoppin' John soon became popular with the southern white folk.  The importance of counting the whole unbroken black eyed peas in Hoppin' John soon became a thing of the past and a new tradition was borne.  Instead of counting whole beans, all one had to do was eat a bowl of Hoppin' John to have good luck and wealth in the future.  Sometime in the late 1800's Hoppin' John became a New Years Eve tradition.  Those who ate Hoppin' John on New Years Eve were destined to have a lucky year.

     There are many regional variations of Hoppin' John from Georgia to Tennessee.   Low Country Carolina Cuisine features Hoppin' John as one its marquis plates of food.  In South Carolina and Georgia, Hoppin' John is usually made with field peas instead of black eyed peas.  Field peas are not easy to get outside of the deep south and they are more like cowpeas.  Carolina golden rice is part of this region's Hoppin' John recipe.

     In modern Hoppin' John is still a traditional southern New Years Eve entree and it is also soul food staple.  Hoppin' John has filled many a belly with warm lucky comfort!
    The Hoppin' John recipe changes from state to state in the American south.  A Hoppin' John recipe can also change from one home to the next.  Some people prefer rice in Hoppin' John.  Some like no rice.  Some like ham hocks, pork chops or hog jowls in the recipe.  Some people like to add collard greens or turnip greens.  Adding a personal touch is part of the Hoppin' John tradition.

     The four required ingredients in Hoppin' John are:
     • ham or pork
     • black eyed peas, red beans or field peas
     • onion
     • chile pepper
     Tomato is an optional ingredient.  Some say rice is required, but it is not in every Hoppin' John recipe.  Rice was not always available in Africa or America in the pre 1900's because it was an imported trade commodity.

     Hoppin' John is a nice holiday side dish, especially Thanksgiving.  I made a Tennessee style Hoppin' John recipe with rice and no greens for today's recipe.  Tennessee Hoppin' John is mildly spicy and the black eyed peas are cooked long enough for a rich bean gravy to form, just like in traditional African field pea stew recipes.
     African bean stews simmered all day, so in reality, a person was lucky to find just a few whole unbroken black eyed peas in a bowl.  It was not like somebody had to count a hundred black eyed peas to become wealthy.  Sometimes 4 or 5 unbroken black eyed peas took the prize and delivered a lucky winner!

     Hoppin' John:
     This recipe makes 1 large portion of 2 1/2 cups!
     Step 1:  Cut a large thick piece of smoked hog jowl.  (About 3 to 4 ounces.)
     Heat a sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add the piece of smoked hog jowl.
     Sauté till the hog jowl is thoroughly browned.
     Step 2:  Add 1/3 cup of chopped onion.
     Add 1/3 cup of mixed chopped red bell pepper and green bell pepper.
     Add 1 thick sliced green serrano chile pepper.
     Stir the ingredients, till the onions start to caramelize.
     Step 3:  Add 2 1/3 cups of water.
     Add 1 1/3 cups of rinsed pre-cooked dried black eyed peas or rinsed canned black eyed peas.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of marjoram.
     Add 1 pinch thyme.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of paprika.
     Add 1 pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Step 4:  Bring the stew to a boil over medium high heat.
     Add 1/2 cup of brown rice.  (Brown rice adds a rustic touch and a nutty rice flavor.)
     Let the rice boil for 5 minutes.
     *As the rice cooks, stir the stew occasionally to keep it from burning or sticking to the pan.  Add a splash of water if necessary, if the stew becomes too thick.
     Step 5:  Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
     Continue to simmer the stew, till most of the broth has either evaporated or is soaked up by the rice.  
     *Overcooking the rice is acceptable for this Tennessee style version of Hoppin' John.  Do not worry if the rice becomes soft.  Some of the black eyed peas will turn to mush and become part of the "gravy."  There should only be a small amount of extra gravy in the Hoppin' John, when the rice has finished cooking.
     When the rice becomes tender and a thin bean stew gravy is formed, then the stew is ready.
     Keep the Hoppin' John warm over very low heat.

     Spoon the Hoppin' John into a shallow bowl and try to expose the piece of hog jowl on the surface.

     The southern soul food flavor of Hoppin' John is mildly spicy and savory from the hog jowl and black eyed peas.  The smoked hog jowl meat is very tender after stewing.  This Hoppin' John recipe will make you feel warm and comfortable.
     If you serve Hoppin' John on New Years Eve, be sure to count the whole black eyed peas in your bowl to see how wealthy you will be in the new year!  The African roots of this recipe still have a way of bringing good luck and fortune.  Delicious food for the soul!

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