Tuesday, January 1, 2013

TT's Black-Eyed Peas with Ham

oh yeah...
We're back ! And what better dish to kick off the New Year than a traditional feed of Black-Eyed Peas and Ham ? Even if you don't believe there's anything to the whole "lucky foods" tradition, black-eyed peas make some mighty fine eating. And hey...what if there's actually something to the good luck thing ? We could all do with a little more good luck this year.
"I've got a feeling...that tonight's gonna be a GOOD night !"
Black-eyed "pea" is actually a little misleading - these guys are legumes, as are peas - but where peas are usually eaten young and green, black-eyed peas are beans - more like a pinto or Great Northern bean than a green pea. The tradition of eating them as good luck food dates back 2500 years ago to Jewish culture - Jews would eat them during Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) to symbolize the prosperity that they hoped they would be blessed with for the New Year (click here to read more). Most people, though, associate black-eyed peas with soul food from the South, as they are a food that easily made the trip from Africa with the slaves. It is in the South that the unassuming little pea/bean is truly elevated to glorious heights - for they, like all beans, have a mysterious affinity for the pig - particularly smoked, fatty, delicious pork products. Their "luck" factor is variously attributed to their supposed resemblance to coins as well as the abundance of them in a spoonful. For me, though, the lucky part involves me eating them. 
Onions, garlic and bacon fat...usually the start of something good :)
My own introduction to black-eyed peas came from my mother's ex-partner - "TT", to my son. T was from Baltimore, and though she didn't give herself enough credit she was an amazing cook - I still have dreams about her fried chicken and homemade lemonade (my requested birthday dinner every year), which I would never even try to duplicate. The black-eyed peas, though...oh, did we love those too. Luckily, the peas were much easier than the chicken. T consented to let us hover in the kitchen long enough to get the hang of this one, and we've been lucky enough to make it on New Year's ever since - with our own modifications, of course, but still true to the original spirit of the dish. Thank you, TT. 
just look at that HAM !
As with many bean dishes, the ingredients for this one are easily adaptable. Don't have bacon fat ? Oil or butter are just fine. Throw the ham bone from your next ham dinner (along with the leftover meat) into the freezer, and use that instead of the hock. Can't find a Spanish chorizo ? No big deal, just throw in more ham (or less, if you'd like a bigger ratio of peas). You could even do this entire dish with smoked turkey parts, if you're not a pig person. We won't judge :)
Cornbread (mine is here ) makes an excellent accompaniment, as do greens (more on those in another post).
A note on the vinegar - traditionally, the vinegar is stirred in at the end to kick up the flavor as well as to make the beans a little less...um..."musical". It's totally optional, though - we actually just put the vinegar on the table and let people use it at will. Personally, I like them both ways - so I usually do one bowl with, and one without. Hey, it's your party...go forth and pea !
 " As we start the New Year, let's get down on our knees to thank God we're on our feet! "
-Irish blessing

Happy New Year !
TT's Black-Eyed Peas with Ham
1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight (or use Quick-Soak method below)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons bacon fat (or vegetable oil)
1 large, meaty ham hock
2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp (or more to taste) "house" seasoning (see below) 
1 quart (about) chicken stock - see directions
1 small Spanish-style chorizo, diced*
1/2 lb ham (leftover, or use a ham steak - just not lunchmeat !), diced
1 tablespoon white vinegar (optional)
Salt, to taste (only add towards the end, as too much will toughen the bean skins)
Additional white vinegar and/or Tabasco, for serving
Melt bacon fat in bottom of kettle or Dutch oven. Add onions and garlic and cook until softened and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add peas, ham hock and spices, and stir well to combine. Pour in chicken stock until it just about reaches top of beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. When you stir, check your liquid level - add more stock if needed to keep level right below tops of peas.
After about an hour, stir in the diced chorizo and ham. Check the liquid level, adding more stock if needed. Simmer another hour, stirring occasionally, until the peas are done to your liking. Remove from heat and stir in additional salt to taste and vinegar, if using.
Note #1 - Quick Soak method for beans - if you forget to set them out to soak the night before :
Place beans in a large pot and add enough HOT water from the tap to cover by a few inches. Bring to a boil and boil for two minutes; turn off heat and leave covered for an hour. Drain, and proceed with recipe.
Note #2 - "House" seasoning - so there I was researching collard green recipes one day (more on that in another post). Found a Paula Deen recipe, which seemed to make sense - after all, who would know more about collard greens  ? It called for her "house" seasoning, though - which I assumed was some sort of seasoned salt thing. Well, I didn't have any of that - but I did have a jar of Spicy Montreal Steak Seasoning (given to me by my sister, who bought it by accident). Salt, pepper and spices...I figured a little of that would do the trick...wow, did it ever - those greens were AWESOME. Since the flavorings for black-eyed peas are very similar, I used a little of it here too...perfection. When I finally use the jar up, I'll just mix up my own as it's pretty easy...here's a typical blend http://www.canadianliving.com/food/great_canadian_steak_spice.php .
Note #3 * - Spanish-style chorizo is different than Mexican chorizo...one of the main differences is that it's fully cooked, which is why it's added so late in the cooking process here. Do not substitute Mexican chorizo unless you plan to cook it first.   

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