Monday, January 1, 2007

It's a New Year - This One's for Luck

Hoppin' John is something I make to start the new year. Since I only make it once a year, the recipe has taken some time to develop - this year it turned out great. Last year it was greasy and disgusting.

I was knocking around ideas all year of how to render out the fat without getting rid of the flavor. The obvious solution finally came to me: just whittle off the rind of fat and use the rest.

The first year I decided to make Hoppin' John, the idea struck me on New Year's Eve. Brilliant. Because I was the only person in town who thinks of this, right? Since there were no ham hocks at the supermarket, I settled for some ham shank. While the hocks are traditional, the about 4 ounces of ham shank work brilliantly - since there is no fat to speak of. It does give you all the flavor, but the silky-gelatinous sauce created by the bone of the ham hock shouldn't be missed.

To start: soak 1/2 bag (8-oz) of black-eyed peas in cold water overnight. As always, it is a good idea to pick though the beans to make sure there aren't any small rocks in there.

1 small onion, minced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves

1 ham hock, trimmed of fat
About 4 cups of cold water

Ground black pepper and hot sauce to taste

- Sweat the onion in the olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic, bay leaves, and ham hock.

- Add cold water to cover the ham hock (in a 3-quart saucepan this took about 4 cups of water). Add ground pepper and about a tablespoon of hot sauce.

- Simmer the ham hock, partially covered over very low heat, until the meat falls from the bone - this will take about 2-3 hours. Skim any fat from the surface.

- Drain the beans and add to the pot, cook, over low heat, for about an hour until the beans are cooked.

- Taste for seasoning: add salt, if necessary, and more hot sauce.

Serve with rice.

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