I like black eyed peas, and we eat them year round at Brightsong. (Brightsong is the name of our house. I guess I should explain that somewhere.) We did our part last year for good luck as we had black eyed peas on New Year’s Day, and we did our part again yesterday. There were complications.
I’ll be detailing three recipes in this blog post, with any alterations, substitutions or omissions noted: Hoppin’ John, from Mike Holtquist; Southern Collard Greens from Jocelyn at GrandBaby Cakes; and because I’m always looking for that cornbread recipe, this time I tried Alex Guarnaschelli’s. I did not take pictures of the cornbread process, as there were complications.
…before the cook…
The morning of, after watching it snow for a bit, I soaked one pound (a bag!) of dry black eyed peas in six cups of water. (I didn’t measure the water. I just put a couple inches above the peas, and set it aside.) B. was kind enough to chop up a bunch of leftover ham from Christmas, and to slice off and set aside a lot of ham fat, which I used twice in this preparation.
The first thing to develop is the potlikker–the broth or brine or jus or whatever you wish to call it that the greens are going to steep in as they braise. I took some of the ham, threw it in a pot, covered it with water, and got it boiling. I’m going to attempt a before-and-after sliding image thing, below? I hope it works:
Now: I started in my smaller stock pot. That was a mistake. I had to transfer stuff into the big one, and I scraped the smaller pot because I wanted everything in the new batch. I also over-reduced in the beginning. This would not continue to be a problem.
While the ham was doing its thing, I destemmed, chopped and washed all the greens. Four bunches, which yielded this much:
I threw the greens in with the ham stock, the dry spices, the Worcestershire sauce and apple cider vinegar, and I topped it off with water. I thought as I kept filling, “Goodness, this is more than what the recipe calls for.”
Tamp down your greens, everyone. Shove those suckers down in there, or they’ll never reduce. Lesson learned! Also, the recipe and technique Jocelyn provides is amazing, and I’m always one for spicy food, but a teaspoon of crushed red pepper is a lot. I reduced the amount, and it’s still a lot. I have a theory as to why it was so overpowering in this batch.
As I brought that up to a boil, I cooked down the onions. That wasn’t in the recipe, but I prefer not to put raw white onion into stocks, stews and braises. So I rendered out some ham fat, and got those onions going for a few minutes.
I finally tipped it all into the bigger pot, brought it to what I thought was a good temperature, and left it to do its thing. Then!
the hoppin’ john!
So I want to say from the get-go, the Hoppin’ John was very good. I also want to say that I didn’t think when I pulled a recipe from a website called Chili Pepper Madness about the heat levels, and I didn’t even blink when making a version of his Cajun spice blend, where he talks about how his personal secret ingredient is ghost chili peppers that he grows himself. Mike Holtquist, I want to be your friend. If that’s not possible, I certainly don’t want to be your enemy.
Here’s all the ducks in a row:
An aside: I learned to cook, in part, from a friend of mine who was severely Cajun. He once told me “if it don’t start with onions in fat, it’s not worth your time, honey.” I hadn’t realized how much he’d influenced my love and knowledge of cooking until I discovered mirepoix–the French base of onions, celery and carrots–and I was so offended. The Holy Trinity is better–and not just because I was raised Presbyterian-adjacent. Please also notice the fourth person of the Trinity: jalapeño peppers.
Oh, also notice the spice rub, because that’s going to come back in a big way later!
So I re-rendered the ham fat in the onion remnants, the fond? if that word’s appropriate here, and then browned the sausage and more ham.
I followed instructions after that–sauteed the Four-Ingredient Trinity, added the garlic and meat, then broth and black-eyed peas and the spice rub.
So I never remember if it’s three or four teaspoons make a tablespoon. It’s three. I reduced Mike Holtquist’s Cajun Spice Blend recipe to eight teaspoons, thinking it was two tablespoons. It was two and two thirds. I threw it all in the pot, brought it to a boil, and put it on a simmer.
And then I waited. I found my copy of The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, which is a great read in my favorite genre–food history. I’ll write a review of it soon. You can order it here. And then I checked on things.
Y’all. It was so hot. Overwhelmingly spicy. All of it but the cornbread.
lessons learned and meals served.
B. is my shining knight when my cooking collapses under the weight of my hubris. “Throw it out! We’ll have pizza! I’m never doing this again!,” I cried, running to the fainting couch I insisted we install in the kitchen. (I am exaggerating, but not as much as I wish I was.)
- We added butter to the Hoppin’ John, and that mellowed it out; serving it over rice, the heat was still more than what I wanted, but I found it tolerable. And the overall stew was delicious.
- The greens didn’t reduce because I did not put them at a rolling boil. So there was so much potlikker, with these really tender greens drowned in it. So we threw it on the biggest burner, cranked it to high, and got it reducing quickly; B. mellowed out the over-hot potlikker by adding soy sauce and the smallest amount of sugar. It was saved!
I know the greens were a hit because The Kid, who has told me every time I make any dish from the dark, leafy green family that she hates collard greens, ate the entire bowl. I forgot to take more pictures towards the end of the process–but here’s a couple from the meal.
So do you do black-eyed peas and greens on New Year’s Day? Do you eat as many as your years? Do you despise the tradition? What’s your go-to to kick off a new period of time? Leave me a comment, let me know!