Monday, January 2, 2012

Hoppin' John - This year I'm making my own good luck!

A traditional Southern food for New Year's Day is Hoppin' John, collard greens and cornbread.  The foods are supposed to bring good luck in the New Year - beans representing coins, greens representing paper money and cornbread representing gold.  It's usually made with ham hocks, beans and rice with a bit of salt.

The leftovers are called Skippin' Jenny.  No clue as to why.  :)

Many years ago I worked as a Sous Chef at a restaurant in Kansas City called Cafe Allegro.  The Chef at the time (Sue Dubowski)  is one of the best chefs I have ever worked with - her knowledge and abilities were incredible.  I could never be half as creative as the Chefs I worked with, but I always felt blessed to be able to work under them.  She created a dish that went on the menu that I still think about to this day - Fried Soft Shelled Crab with Hoppin' John.  Her version is the best I've ever tasted.  The recipe below is as close to that as I can come.  I remember making it one night and asking one of the waiters there, who had lived in the south, to taste it as I was making it.  I added and adjusted according to his suggestions.  This isn't entirely authentic to what I made that night, but it is pretty close!  Below is what I cooked up yesterday; probably not quite the same as all those years ago.  In that restaurant, everything was cooked from scratch so the peas were cooked from dry and we used ham hocks and white rice, among other small changes.  With 2 kids and a busy holiday season, I just pulled from my pantry.  I made a roasted chicken and gave some away to a new mom down the street and we had ours with baked tilapia sprinkled with Paul Prudhomme's seafood seasoning.  Rafe loves this - I got an unqualified, "I wouldn't mind having this again" from him.  He's a guy who will eat anything I make but has just a few favorites.

I usually serve it with lemons and scallions for garnish, which is definitely not traditional.  The lemon really brightens up the flavor of the beans when squeezed over the top.

Hoppin' John
3-4 stalks celery, medium small dice
2 med. onions, medium small dice
1/5 bulb (about 6-7 very large cloves) garlic, minced or crushed
1/2 cup minced ham (or any smoky/salty meat - ham hock, andouille, bacon, smoked turkey, etc)
vegetable oil
Heat oil in heavy pan (I used a Le Creuset big pot) on high just till it begins smoking.  Add the celery and onions and let sit briefly to get color on the onions and celery, then stir.  Turn heat down and let sit for a minute or two each time between stirring - not enough to burn the celery and onion, but to start to give it some color and flavor.  When the celery and onions first begin to get a little tender and brighter in color, add the ham and garlic and stir.  Continue cooking till the flavor of the garlic has bloomed.

cooked brown rice
2 cans (15 oz each) black eyed peas
cayenne pepper
When the garlic has bloomed, add the peas and cooked rice.  Sprinkle lightly with cayenne.  Stir gently and simmer till rice has finished cooking.  Add more chicken stock as needed.  The end result should be thick and sludgy like, with beans intact for the most part.  Season to taste.  Serve with lemons on side and scallions sprinkled over the top.

Cooked Rice
1 cup brown rice
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp (approx) dried minced onion
2 cups chicken stock
kosher salt to taste
Cook in rice cooker till almost finished, but still slightly under done.  Add to pot of beans to finish cooking.

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