Food section staff writer Tim Carman felt it sacrilege to tweak John Martin Taylor’s recipe for Hoppin’ John, a dish so rich with history that the Southern cookbook author adopted its name as his alternative handle. But Carman couldn’t resist incorporating writer John Thorne’s techniques to add fat, flavor and crunch to the dish.
Black-eyed peas cook relatively quickly, in about 45 to 60 minutes, so you don't need to pre-soak them unless you want to cut down on the cooking time. Monitor the water closely; it can evaporate before your rice and beans are fully cooked (or conversely can reduce your ingredients to mush if there's too much of it).
Cooks debate whether to salt your beans as they cook, which is said to toughen them, or wait until the end to add salt. Carman says the only difference he found is that salting might increase the cooking time by 10 minutes.
Servings: 4 - 5
Yield: Makes 5 cups
- 1 cup small dried beans, such as cowpeas or black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked over to discard any foreign matter
- 5 to 6 cups water
- 1 small dried hot chili pepper, such as ancho, stemmed, seeded and chopped (optional)
- One 20-ounce smoked pork shank, available at Whole Foods
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
- 5 strips uncooked bacon
- 1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)
- Freshly ground black pepper
Place the dried beans in a pot and cover with the water; discard any that float to the surface. Place over medium heat; once the liquid starts bubbling at the edges, add the dried chili pepper, if desired, the smoked pork shank, bay leaves and salt; cook uncovered for 45 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the beans are just tender but not mushy. There should be about 2 cups of liquid at this point. If there's not at least an inch of liquid in your pot, add more water as needed.
Stir in the rice; reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and cook undisturbed, without lifting the lid, for 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat; leave it covered for 10 minutes, to steam, then uncover it and use a fork to separate the grains of rice. Remove the pork shank, shredding the meat to add to the dish or to reserve for another use.
Line a plate with several layers of paper towels.
While the rice is cooking, fry the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp and transfer the strips to the lined plate, leaving the bacon fat in the skillet. Add the onions to the skillet, stirring to coat with the fat; cook for 6 or 7 minutes, until soft. If the beans and rice are not finished at this time, reduce the heat to low and hold the onions in the skillet.
Coarsely chop the cooled bacon.
Once the beans and rice are ready, stir in the bacon bits and sauteed onions, adding as much of the bacon fat as desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve right away, garnished with parsley.
Adapted from "Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking," by John Martin Taylor (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000).
Tested by Tim Carman.
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