“Hoppin John,” is a flavorful blend of black-eyed peas accented with pork and rice. The historical beginnings of this southern favorite, date back to the mid-19th century and very likely evolved from rice and bean mixtures whose provenance can be traced back to the region of West Africa. Very popular in South Carolina’s “Low Country,” where it was known as “Carolina Peas and Rice,” this dish eventually spread all across the South and became known simply as “Hoppin’ John.”
Although the origin of the term “Hoppin’ John” is difficult to pin down, many people trace its beginnings to the early 1800’s in the French Creole region of Louisiana. According to North Carolina State University, English speaking Southerners may have initially mispronounced the French Creole term “pois a pegion, (pigeon peas, similar to black-eyed peas, which is correctly pronounced “pwah peeJon),” as “Hoppin’ John. Most of the earlier recipes call for pork, specifically “hog jowels” as the main source of seasoning, but most folks who prepare it today use bacon as the main seasoning ingredient.
Preparing and consuming any kind of dish or soup that contains “black-eyed peas” on New Year’s day is a very Southern tradition that I grew up with in Richmond, Virginia. In the traditional sense, the “peas” are symbolic of pennies or coins and the “greens” represent the addition of wealth as they are the color of money, as in “greenbacks.” Beyond New Year’s Day, as the folklore goes, if you have this same dish on the day after, it supposedly represents both frugality as well as savings. And…if that isn’t enough, some claim that if you leave 3 peas on your plate, you will be assured that the coming year will be filled with luck, fortune, and…romance! Overall, the greens represent both money and prosperity, and the Hoppin’ John, all-around good luck. Well, who doesn’t want that?
This version of the traditional New Year’s dish adds chicken and greens which essentially combines all of these Southern elements into a taste-bud watering down home Southern meal. Like all the recipes I post on this blog, this one is fun to prepare, simple in its execution, and when complete, provides a tasty Southern-themed dish that will allow you to experience a moment of divine consumption. All you Southerner’s know what I’m talkin’ about!
Prep Time: 20 min.
Cook Time: 1.5 hours
2 lb. dark meat chicken (about 2 leg quarters or 4 thighs)
1/2 cup dried black-eyed peas
8 oz. mustard greens, stemmed, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
3 slices bacon, diced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup un-cooked long-grain rice
1 dried bay leaf
1 TBSP salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Cool chicken slightly. Discard chicken skin and bones. Shred and reserve meat with peas and greens.
In large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, sauté bacon 5 minutes, or until crisp.
Using slotted spoon, remove bacon, leaving the bacon grease, then reserving the bacon and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic. Sautè 8 minutes, or until onion is tender.
Stir in rice, bay leaf, 1 TBSP salt, and ½ tsp. pepper.
Add 1¾ cups reserved cooking liquid, peas, chicken, and greens.
Bring to a simmer. Cover tightly, reduce heat to low, and cook 20 minutes.
Remove from heat. Fluff with fork. Cover and let stand 15 minutes.
Sprinkle with bacon.
Pre-heating the smaller 8-inch cast iron pan for the cornbread mix is a must!
Serve hot with cornbread…and lots of butter!
Bon Appetit, Y’all!
CHEF NOTES: My wife Evelyn l-o-v-e-s black-eyed peas, so for her benefit, I added a 14.5 oz can to the recipe when I made it for her. For some, that might be a bit of “black-eyed-pea overkill,” so if you like extra black-eyed peas but don’t want to overdo them in the recipe, consider offering them alongside as a vegetable side dish.
Chicken, black-eyed peas, and greens can be prepared up to 1 day ahead, cooled, covered, and refrigerated. Rewarm over low heat before preparing the remainder of the recipe.
Alternatives: You can use just about any kind of “greens” for this recipe. I like mustard greens because we don’t use them often, so this is a great opportunity to showcase them in a recipe. But…collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, kale, cabbage, and similar leafy green vegetables will work just as well, as the addition of “greens” is supposed to further add to the “wealth,” since they are the color of American currency. It’s your choice, Chef!
Adapted from Winn-Dixie’s “Flavor” magazine, January 2017 edition.