Hoppin’ John and Duck Fat Cornbread

Posted by on Dec 31, 2011 in Musings, Recipes | 1 comment

Every year I make Hoppin’ John, the traditional Southern dish of black-eyed peas and rice eaten on New Year’s Day to bring you luck in the coming year. I have never missed this ritual, even if it meant gobbling the required spoonful minutes before midnight on January 1.

But, I have to confess. I don’t really like black-eyed peas that much. Especially the ones that are available this time of year. The fresh-shelled, tender little peas I remember from my childhood are hard to find in California, much less in the dead of winter. Those were delicious. I miss them.

Instead, we have the “fresh” ones that show up in small, expensive tubs in the produce sections of upscale groceries around now. Close inspection shows they have been treated with additives, even the organic ones, and I find their taste to be strange and stale. Canned ones suffer the same additive treatment and, despite repeated rinsing, still cook up mushy, thick and stale-tasting. No amount of ham hock or smoky bacon has ever been able to mask that taste.

So, for me, the frozen ones have become my black-eyed pea of choice. They have the best flavor and texture, and more importantly, become sweet, tasty and tender after slow-cooking with smoky ham, onions and garlic, the foundation of a good Hoppin’ John. I know that’s what I am looking for in this lowly pea. The ability to become infused with enough rich, savory, pork-scented power to launch me into the New Year on a Good Luck Trajectory. Aren’t you?

This year’s version, using leftover smoked ham from Christmas dinner, trumps all past years batches where I used everything from ham hocks to salt pork to pancetta to flavor the dish. It is just smoky and salty enough to let the sweetness of the black-eyed peas come through and makes for an addictive broth.

Which brings me to the other part of this meal. The cornbread. I long ago abandoned the rice part of Hoppin’ John for cornbread, which in my opinion, has superior sopping status. And this year, having depleted my bacon fat supply and having some duck fat on hand, I decided to make the cornbread with that. Let’s just say, I may never make cornbread with butter or bacon fat again.

Happy, Lucky 2012!


Hoppin’ John
(serves 4-6)

3 tablespoon bacon fat
1 cup diced onion (1 small onion)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced smoked ham
3 cups frozen black-eyed peas (1 lb. bag), thawed
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (4-5 sprigs)
3 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley

Place the bacon fat in large saucepan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, stir in the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes until the onions and garlic are softened and starting to get some color.  Stir in the ham, lower the heat, and cook for 12-15 minutes more, stirring occasionally as the mixture starts to caramelize and the vegetables are soft and translucent.

Add the black-eyed peas, bay leaf and thyme leaves. Stir in the chicken broth. Turn the heat back up and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and lemon juice. (If you have used canned chicken broth, use less salt and taste for seasoning.) Sprinkle with the parsley just before serving.


Duck Fat Cornbread
(serves 8)

6 tablespoons duck fat, melted*
1 ½ cups fine-ground corn meal
½ cup unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 ¼ cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 450°.
Place a rack in the center of the oven.

Place 2 tablespoons of the duck fat in a 9” cast iron skillet and put it in the oven to preheat.

Sift the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
In a smaller bowl, whisk the eggs until well beaten. Whisk in the buttermilk and remaining 4 tablespoons of duck fat.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk mixture. Stir together just until combined.

Pour the batter into the pre-heated cast iron pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until  the top is golden brown and the cornbread springs lightly back to the touch.

Serve warm with lots of butter.

*Note: If you don’t have duck fat, use melted bacon fat, melted butter or olive oil instead. If you use butter, be careful not to burn it during the preheating process in the oven. Preheat the pan just until the butter melts and is bubbling.


1 Comment

  1. This looks SO Good! C and I may make it tomorrow, though here on the central coast, I don’t know where we are going to get duck fat!

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