Recipe by Chef BJ Dennis
Rich in flavor and history, Hoppin' John is a delicious Lowcountry Gullah Geechie New Years tradition. The dish has its roots in West Africa and has been a Southern ritual bringing luck for the new year since antebellum days. Hoppin' John in modern times as suffered the fate of industrialized farming. The ingredients that made it really shine had all but died out until not long ago. Bland white rice has taken the place of Carolina Gold Rice and black eyed peas have replaced the much more flavorful Sea Island Red Peas leaving a sad representation of its flavorful ancestor. Luckily the dish and the original ingredients have been rescued by farmers like Greg Johnsman of Marsh Hen Mill and chefs like BJ Dennis.
Chef BJ Dennis is a Gullah Geechie ambassador to South Carolina Lowcountry cuisine and nobody could tell you about this dish better than he can. We've simply added a bit of extra instruction for clarification to his original recipe.
The first time I made this recipe I made it vegetarian with no ham hock but I used veggie stock instead of water with a 4" strip of kombu to cook the peas. The kombu added the umami that this needs if not using the meat. The most challenging thing for me was having the peas and the rice both cooked perfectly tender but not overcooked. My first go around resulted in overcooked rice so I've added some time and further instruction. If you are not using the Sea Island Red Peas and Carolina Gold Rice from Marsh Hen Mill how quickly things cook will depend on the freshness of the ingredients, and even with Marsh Hen Mill it can vary depending on just how quickly it ended up shipping here after harvest. I recommend watching the pot rather than the clock on this dish. Taste early and taste often.
Let ham hock boil for 30-40 minutes or until tender. Dice onion, bell pepper and garlic–set aside. Add red peas once ham hock is tender. Stir occasionally. Next, add onion, bell pepper, garlic and pepper vinegar. Mix ingredients. Add dry spices (salt, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, seasoning salt and garlic salt). Add water as needed for peas (enough to cover ingredients in dish) and cover dish with lid. Cook until the peas are tender (about 20-30 minutes).
Rinse the rice until water runs clear. *Do not skip this step! It will take at least 4-6 rinses. Add rice to dish and cover in water. Mix ingredients and let cook for 15-30 minutes until the rice is tender. Why such a large time range? Depends on the freshness of the rice. I've had packages of rice from Marsh Hen Mill so fresh they cook up in under 15 minutes, so check early and check often.
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