Hoppin’ John

This is one of those dishes that have as many recipes as cooks. I can’t think of anyone within my ken who hasn’t modified it to their own taste, adding more spice, making it blander, what have you. It’s poverty food in the sense that if you need to stretch meat a looooong way, but you have some beans and rice and other stuff, you can make a filling and rather comforting dish. This was on frequent rotation when I was flying and in grad school, because I could make it in advance and have lots of leftovers. And yes, it can be inexpensive if you have a left-over ham-bone or meat bits from something.

Fancy New Year's version with fresh collards, as per tradition.

Fancy New Year’s version with fresh collards, as per tradition.

Who was John? No one knows. The recipe comes from the Carolina Low-country, where rice was first grown in North America, and beans with bacon over rice appears in receipt books in the early 1800s. (Receipt is the older term used in parts of the Coastal and Deep South for recipe.)

So, Hoppin’ John.

2 cans black-eyed peas or red beans or cow peas. (I use red beans, or cow-peas. Black-eyed peas are more authentic) Or 1 1/2 cups dried beans, soaked overnight and picked through for rocks-n-twigs.

1 c. rice, brown or white.(If you use brown, remember that it takes 45 min to cook.)

1 meaty ham-bone, or a ham hock, or 1 lb good smoked sausage. (I used to use the cheap stuff. It works, but I prefer more meat around my filler.)

one onion, diced fine.

1 bell pepper (optional)

a few stalks of celery (optional)

spices: garlic, Tabasco sauce, red-pepper, chili powder, or whatever works with your meat.

Cheese [for topping with. I don’t use it.]

Rinse the beans. In a sturdy pot, sauté onion, (bell pepper, celery, garlic too) until the onion is transparent, usually 3-5 minutes. Add beans, meat of choice, and water enough so that the beans are covered. Simmer on low heat for 2 hrs or until soaked beans are tender, or 45 minutes for canned beans. You want the meat flavoring the beans. Remove the ham bone or hock and separate the meat, then put the meat back into the pot. Add spices as desired and simmer for a little longer until the flavors blend.

As the beans-n-meat cook, cook the rice. I use two cups of water per cup of rice, plus a bit because it tends to evaporate a little here (am at almost 4000 feet above sea level, so high altitude for cooking). Bring water to a boil, add rice, simmer for 20 min (white rice) or 45 min (brown rice).

Now, do you add the rice to the beans, or serve the beans over the rice? I use the first option, so I tend to let the beans cook down a little as I watch the rice, then tump the rice into the beans (thus the large pot), stir, and serve with more Tabasco (bottle on the table for folks to help themselves). Some recipes and cooks like to sprinkle cheese over the mix, but I really don’t care for that combo. Salsa works better for me, depending on the sausage.

You can use beef sausage and leftover beef bits. I have not tried smoked turkey or chicken, so I don’t know if poultry works as well.


3 thoughts on “Hoppin’ John

  1. I’d never heard of Hoppin’ John, but there’s a very similar dish in South Africa. However, instead of a ham hock, try putting in marrow bones. I don’t know if they’re used much in the USA: I mean leg bones with lots of marrow left inside the bone channel. Get them from your local butcher and have him cut them into 1″-2″ chunks. After a couple of hours of cooking, most of the marrow will have dissolved out of the channel and flavored the rest of the meal. Fish out the chunks of bone, scrape out any marrow still inside each chunk, then stir everything together. Delicious!

    For added color and flavor, try bush cabbage. Add it to the food after taking out the bones and simmer for another 15-20 minutes if you want it chewy, or put it in from the start if you want everything to melt down together. Either way tastes good to me, but I like a chewier texture.

    As for the meat . . . don’t use warthog. Just . . . don’t. And don’t ask me how I know this!

  2. It’s a dish I grew up with, and no, NO CHEESE!!! It and collards will be on the menu here Jan 1st with cornbread, as always. 🙂

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