Friday, December 26, 2008

New Year's Day Hoppin' John

I know what you're thinking:  it's only the day after Christmas and you've already started thinking about New Year's Day?!  Well, yes, I'm afraid so (I'm not one of those day after Christmas sale shoppers so my "day after" scenario revolves around the next food event). But I don't have to think too hard because in the last 10 or so years I have never skipped a New Year's Day without making Hoppin' John.  This is a traditional dish that is eaten widely in the South on New Year's Day as a way of ensuring good luck in the coming year  (who can argue with that?).  And since, most likely, you don't have all of these ingredients sitting in your pantry, I wanted to give you some advance notice so you could gather up the necessary items.  Every year when I make this, I think "this is so good, why do I only make it on New Year's day?"  Habit I guess.  It is a really nice, hearty, a little bit spicy, warming dish.  

There are alot of Hoppin' John recipes out there (and I've tried many), but this one comes from "Hot Links and Country Flavors" by Bruce Aidells (the sausage king) and Denis Kelly.  The other nice thing about serving Hoppin' John (besides the good luck thing) is that you can make it the day before and just re-heat the next day.  This is an important consideration since who knows what kind of shape you'll be in on New Year's Day. Enjoy and all the best to you and yours in 2009!

Black-Eyed Peas with Andouille Sausage and Rice

2 C dried black-eyed peas or 4 C fresh or frozen
1-1/2 LBs andouille sausage or other good quality smoked sausage
1/4 LB chunk of country or smoked ham
6 C chicken stock or water
1 TB bacon grease or olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 TB minced garlic
3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1-1/2 t dried
2 bay leaves
1 or 2 dried chili peppers or 1 t red pepper flakes
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t pickling spice
salt to taste
4 C cooked rice
chopped green onions, Tabasco sauce, and cider vinegar for serving

1. If using dried peas, rinse and soak overnight in water to cover by 3 inches. Drain, and place in a 6-8 qt pot with a 1/2 LB piece of the andouille, the ham, and the stock. Heat to boiling, then reduce to a simmer. (If using fresh or frozen peas, boil the stock first, then add peas, the 1/2 LB piece of andouille, and the ham. Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer).

2. Heat the bacon grease or oil in a heavy skillet, add the onion and celery and cook until soft. Add to the peas with the garlic and remaining seasonings. Simmer dried peas for 2 to 2-1/2 hours; fresh or frozen for about 30-45 minutes. In both cases, the peas should be tender and the liquid should begin to thicken.

3. Slice remaining sausage into 1/2 inch rounds. Fry briefly in a nonstick skillet and add to the peas. Remove the whole piece of sausage and the ham and chop roughly; return to the pot. Cook for another 15 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and pepper pods.

4. To serve, ladle pea mixture over rice and sprinkle with green onions, Tabasco, and vinegar to taste.

Yield: 6-8 servings.

You might also want to check out fellow food blogger, Smitten Kitchen, for a terrific gingerbread recipe which would be a very nice dessert for your New Year's Day lunch/dinner.  This recipe is adapted from Claudia Fleming (former Gramercy Park pastry chef) and tastes even better on day two or three (following the all-important make-ahead rule) www.smittenkitchen.com.

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