Recipes for Hoppin’ John, an American Southern rice and pea dish, can be spotted in cookbooks dating back to the 1840s. But most every country and nationality has a rice and pea dish, according to Chef Stephen Jones of the larder + the delta at DeSoto Central Market.
“Hoppin’ John is an old slave dish from South Carolina,” he says. “This is a tradition in the United States that no one knows about.”
When making the dish, Jones says it’s best to cook with a cast iron skillet or a nonstick pan, but if using a stainless steel skillet, make sure it’s really hot before adding the rice.
Other tips: Use day-old rice. “It helps the rice dry out and will allow it to crisp up better in the pan and prevent sticking.” Also, skip the dried bay leaves. “The use of fresh bay leaves in this dish makes it nice and floral and herbaceous at the same time.”
Jones uses Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice and Sea Island Red Peas, both of which can be bought at ansonmills.com.
Yield: 6 servings
6 cups Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice (cooked)
4 cups Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas (cooked and soaking in braising liquid)
8 fresh bay leaves
1cup holy trinity (see recipe below)
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
5 tbsp. scallions (thinly sliced on a bias)
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup pickled celery leaves (from the heart of the celery bunch, the golden yellow leaves)
Holy Trinity (yield: 1 cup)
4 celery stalks (cut into a very small dice)
1 yellow onion (cut into a very small dice)
2 green bell peppers (cut into a very small dice)
6 cloves of garlic (minced into paste)
1 jalapeño (seeded, cut into very small dice; non-traditional)
Cooking Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice:
Using a large sauce pot, combine rice, all the bay leaves and a large pinch of salt. Fill with 2 quarts of water, bring to a simmer and cover. Cook for 5 minutes, then shut off heat and let sit for 14 minutes untouched. Remove lid (be careful as steam will escape rapidly) and fluff with a fork onto a parchment- or wax paper-lined sheet pan (cookie sheet) to cool for at least 10 minutes, but up to one hour would be best.
Working with a cast iron pan, place over medium heat and let pan heat up for 5 minutes. Add a thin layer of canola oil to pan, then add cooked rice in a single layer and let cook until rice begins to caramelize but not burn – roughly 7-8 minutes before you begin to get color. You’re looking for a nice amber color, not burnt.
While the rice is crisping up, place a sauté pan over a burner on medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add a thin layer of canola oil to the pan, then add the trinity and season with salt, pepper, cayenne and Old Bay mix and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes. The garlic will become fragrant. Then add the peas, tossing to coat.
While peas are simmering, check rice and season with black pepper and a little of the Old Bay mixture. Let rice continue to cook until that amber color is achieved.
Once rice has achieved that golden color, combine with the peas and toss together. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Garnish with chive blossoms and the yellow celery leaves.
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