An american classic I love cooking on new years day is a dish called Hoppin John. Originating in the south, and most likely in the Creole country of Lousiana, it's thought to bring good luck to eat black eyed peas on New Years Day. The French Creole word for pidgeon peas (a similar legume to black eyed peas) is "pois a pigeon", pronounced like "pwah peeJon" which likely sounded like Hoppin' John to anyone not well versed in french. I can just hear the lovely Lousiana accent saying the word right now. Rebecca and I have been to New Orleans together and it's a really special place so this dish has become a part of our regular cooking routine. In fact, now when I make pit beans with my BBQ I always toss in a bit of bacon and cabbage in homage to the dish. Another important influence in my cooking is mexican food, especially the bean dishes. This year I decided to take a little twist on my favorite New Year's dish and add in some new flavors. If you're some sort of stinky food purist maybe skip this post. I'm going to lay out the dish in a loose process recipe and list my ingredients at the end. I feel like explaining the concepts and process of cooking is as important as the ingredients. I want people to learn to improvise and substitute where possible and know what's the core flavor and what can get a new substitution when maybe you're out of something, don't have access or just want to try a new idea. So much good food over the years has come from people making do with what's available to them so feel free to riff on this idea.
First I wanted to create my stock and secure the basic essential flavors of the dish. I started out by making a sofrito. I cut up some bacon in big chunks that I'd smoked and sauteed it in a bit of lard. The tradional recipe calls for ham hocks but I had to use bacon as that's what was available to me. Tasso can also be a great substitution with all the dried spices on the outside of the cured meat. While that was getting rolling I chopped up my celery, onion and carrots. Once the bacon started to brown I tossed in my veg, let those get a bit of color, let the onions turn translucent (a key signifier that flavors have arrived, that sugars have been extracted from the onion) and turned the heat down to a low setting. Now that the sofrito was ready I added in a liter of chicken stock and about a liter of water.
With the stock I added 3 cloves of garlic. It wasn't nearly enough so later on I added in 4 more to balance out the strong smoky flavors the bacon was putting out. Along with the garlic I added a couple dry Guajillo chiles. The original Hopper John calls for cayenne but I don't really use them and had Guajillo on hand. I also have some mexican smoked chili paste in my fridge so in it went.
For christmas my brother in law Louis gifted us one of his favorite spice mixes that smelled like it might add some complexity so in a tablespoon of the mix went as well. I then covered my dutch oven and let the stock cook, reduce and gain a depth in flavor that only time gives.
The other thing to get going that you could even do in advance is cook your beans. For this recipe I decided to go for a different bean because it's new years day and I didn't want to go out and grab the black eyed peas. I have lots of dried black beans so I decided to give it a shot and see how that would go. To prepare dried beans you can soak for a few hours or overnight to get them more tender before you start cooking but I didn't plan ahead so I just boiled them 3 times, rinsing after. The 4th time I brought them up to temperature I added a bit of salt (adding salt too soon breaks down the bean so it's best to wait until later to add).
Once my beans had softened appropriately I added them to the stock, cut up an inch off a cabbage head, diced the veg and tossed it in as well. At this point I added a couple small banger size links of smoked pork sausage as well. This link I THINK (I'm bad at labelling sometimes) is one that has some spicy tomato jam added to the pork and will be a nice zing. I let all of this cook for another hour to really come together as a dish. I normally start this dish right when I wake up on New Year's day so we can have a big lunch as we stay up celebrating our anniversary every NYE. The final garnishes on this years pot are cilantro and truffle oil I recieved as a gift. This dish may be a classic and will hopefully be something I mess with for years to come. ¡Buen provecho y feliz año nuevo!
1 cup dried beans
1 small onion, diced
6 stalks of celery from the inside of the bunch with greens intact, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cups of cabbage, diced
1/4 lb of bacon, cubed - if you can acquire it unsliced to make into 1/2" cubes even better
smoke ham hocks can be subbed in for the bacon if you can find them
2 bay leaves
2 dried chiles, guajillo, ancho, hatch or other larger dried peppers are best. They're hot but not insane.
6 cloves of garlic, smashed then chopped
1 liter of chicken stock
1 liter of water (you could also just use 2 liters of chicken stock)
1 sausage link per person
1/4 cup cilantro, rough chopped for garnish
1 teaspoon truffle oil for garnish per bowl (optional)
hotsauce for people like me who want it spicy