Hoppin' John Recipe | Serious Eats
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Hoppin' John Recipe | Serious Eats
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[Photographs: Jillian Atkinson]
There are a lot of stories behind Hoppin’ John, and probably even more versions of the recipe. I grew up in the Deep South, where Hoppin’ John—a dish made with rice and peas—was always served on New Year’s Day alongside our greens and cornbread. But it wasn’t relegated to just that one day of the year.
While Hoppin’ John was meant to bring prosperity and good luck for the New Year, one-pot rice dishes made with just about anything were a part of the table on a regular basis, and cowpeas of all sorts were always in our diets. I didn’t find out until I got much older that cowpeas aren’t familiar to most people outside of the Deep South. It also wasn’t until I got older that I realized the Hoppin’ John I grew up eating and what other people call Hoppin’ John are vastly different.
Not only had I never had the dish made with the black-eyed peas many use, but I’d never had it not made with the rice, meat, and peas all cooked together. Plain boiled rice with peas on top was just…rice with peas on top, and mixing them in together after the fact just seemed like it defeated the purpose of making them separately.
I’d also noticed that we—people from the Low Countries of Georgia, South Carolina, and other nearby areas—made rice that had more color to it because we used field peas to make our Hoppin’ John. Often called “Southern peas,” field peas are black-eyed peas’ close cousins; both are types of cowpeas, though the naming and classification can get confusing since different regions use the terms differently, and frequently interchangeably.
But to me, they aren’t all the same. The brownish red skins of the field peas I grew up with provide a beautiful almost ruddy color to the rice, and their flavor is a bit sweeter and more nutty than that of black-eyed peas. Cooking them all together with a flavorful broth made from smoked meat and aromatics imparts impactful taste into whatever long grain white rice you choose to use.
It took some time for me to learn there was a reason why most people now use black-eyed peas instead of field peas. During the Great Migration out of the Deep South by Black folks, people still carried their traditions, even when they couldn’t carry the ingredients. Cowpeas of all shapes, sizes, and colors are found across the country, but these very specific field peas were only found in the South. So when the people moved, they adapted and used a different, although familiar, replacement in the form of the black-eyed pea.
Over the years, I’ve seen other adaptations, in which people make the classic dish their own way to fit their lifestyle. Some people swear by bacon in their Hoppin’ John, and while I don’t feel it’s necessary given the smoked meat already in there, you should feel free to add some rendered crispy bacon at the end while you fluff the rice, so that a bit of its crunchy texture remains. Or you can use bacon in place of the smoked ham hock called for in the recipe, or add them both together! I didn’t grow up eating much or any pork at all, so we used smoked turkey (necks, tails, wings, whatever you could find) instead of the ham hock or salt pork often found in recipes, and we’d add beef bacon (or no bacon at all) instead.
I’ve even seen vegetarian versions done that don’t include any smoked meat at all, and instead the the grains and legumes get their flavor from simmering the peas in vegetable broth.
My recipe starts by slow cooking the smoked meat in water so that it falls apart tender and leaves a broth that is not only deep and rich, but will make your entire house smell great. Then I cook the peas in that same broth with only a few seasonings and spices. The final step is adding parboiled rice and cooking the dish in the oven until the rice is fluffy, each grain dry enough to keep all the ingredients separate but still tender.
Even I haven’t mastered the art of making Hoppin’ John with the traditional Carolina Gold rice, which needs to be cooked differently than your average medium- or long-grain rice you find in the stores. I’ve found parboiled rice is one of the best options for fluffy grains that are tender but still dry enough not to glue together.
To that end, I also use the oven for the final stage of cooking. Even after years of practice, I still can’t reliably do the entire process on the stovetop, where my rice sometimes turns to mush—something I am sure many, many grannies and aunties would shamefully shake their heads at me for. The oven, thankfully, delivers a more gentle heat that cooks the rice through from all sides without the risk of scorching or requiring any stirring or overcooking that could release starch and push the Hoppin’ John in the direction of what we call a “bog.” It also steers the rice clear of developing a soupy or risotto-like consistency where the grains are more wet and more liquid is left in the pot.
This recipe feeds six to eight people easily, and while it could be scaled down, it is a dish usually served with friends and family, especially during the holidays. The more you make (and eat), the more prosperity you’ll have in the New Year.
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67. “Speak for me again, and I’ll punch you in the throat.” For Ell x John pwease 😌
skdjhfsdlf gosh i just!! hmmm!!! just love u to bits u always seem to know what my heart needs and i think that is honestly very delightful of u. send me a prompt + a pairing and i’ll write a warm-up blurb!
john/ell + “speak for me again and i’ll punch you in the throat”, set pre/no-cult AU, as a follow up to this blurb here. no warnings other than the insinuation john would like to pass on his genes, and also elliot’s mouth (lol).
words: 1.4k yes i am the mayor of clown town
The afternoon was going as smoothly as could be expected. Scarlet was on her fifth drink—Vodka martini, dry, “no olives, please, John”—and where most of the time John would have thought that drinking would make someone as ostensibly obnoxious as Scarlet Honeysett more bearable, it, in fact, accomplished the opposite. Alcohol did not soften Scarlet, but somehow managed to make her more sharp.
Out of the frying pan, John thought dryly, setting the glass down in front of her.
“You know, you’re very good at mixing drinks,” Scarlet remarked. “Do you have practice? Bartended before?”
“No, I just enjoy a nice cocktail,” John replied lightly, clearing his throat as he sat back down, glancing back in the kitchen where Elliot was making herself a drink. Just moments ago, she’d dragged him in there for a nice, secret little moment—but like always with these kinds of affairs, her absence was quickly noticed, and they’d gotten drawn back out into the bustle. “Have you, Scarlet?”
“Oh, don’t be silly, I’d never,” she replied, laughing as though it were cute he’d thought that she might have. “You’ve just got the look of one, you know.” She lifted her glass to her lips, and then added, “A bartender. It must be the tattoos and the ear piercing. You hardly look like a lawyer.”
John stifled a sigh and fanned the shirt away from his chest, feigning as though it were the afternoon heat and not irritation that was drawing the breath out of him. He had just opened his mouth to divert the conversation—a thing he’d done several times that evening already, perhaps evidence enough of his skills as a lawyer—when Elliot returned, saying, “Mama, you’re being obnoxious.”
“I’m not,” Scarlet defended. “Come here, bunny. Did you cut your hair? You know I love it long.”
It was like this, always. No amount of sweet-talking would have brought Scarlet into the fold for him; she was as impervious to charm as she was apparently to alcohol poisoning, unfortunately, which meant she was living long and remaining a thorn in his side until her long-awaited passing.
She really liked Jacob. For whatever fucking reason. It only served to make John more determined to try and win her over, even when he felt like his attempts were fruitless.
As Elliot explained that no, she had not cut her hair, her mother just hadn’t seen it in a few months, he heard Scarlet say, “Oh, I expect I’ll have grandbabies at this table soon anyway, then I’ll be seeing you all the time. Don’t you think, Elliot?”
Oh? John thought, swallowing a mouthful of his drink. Scarlet wants grandkids, is that all?
“Oh,” Elliot said, blinking owlishly. “I—”
“Absolutely,” John said, without thinking, because there was no way he wasn’t taking an in with Scarlet when he saw one. It was an instant rush of dopamine to see Scarlet look at him with anything other than thinly-veiled contempt, let alone with pleasant surprise.
“We’re—” Elliot stopped and looked at him, as though he’d just sprouted a third arm. “We’ve only—it’s—we’re not in a rush—”
“But it would be fine,” John continued, “if we were. Planning, I mean.” His eyes darted from Elliot to Scarlet. “For kids.”
Joey said serenely, “John and Elliot have always been on the same page. Very like-minded individuals.”
“Well, Hudson, I don’t think that’s fair,” John defended plainly, “as we all know you’ve barely gotten to know me.”
“Don’t need to,” Joey replied, not having looked up from her plate once, “to know you’re not trying to get Elliot pregnant and you’re just pulling it out of your ass to get Scarlet to like you.”
“You wouldn’t know,” he snapped.
“So,” Scarlet said, feigning confusion, “you are planning to have children soon, then? Bunny?”
“We’re not!” Elliot exclaimed. She groaned, trying to gather herself before she continued hurriedly, “John and I haven’t bothered talking about children because we’re not in a hurry. We don’t have a plan. We’re not planning anything. Right? John?”
John busied himself with his food. He still felt the petulant little sting from Hudson’s words—he knew she didn’t like him—but with Scarlet looking at him, clearly leaving an opening for them to be in agreement about something, well. He’d be stupid not to take it, wouldn’t he?
“Of course, baby,” he replied casually, “but no reason in waiting, either.”
Scarlet looked pleased. An expression of understanding crossed Elliot’s face; and it wasn’t that she was pleased to know what he was doing—but that she understood he was trying to squirm his way into her mother’s good books, and that alone was enough to set her off.
She said, “Excuse me,” before abruptly pushing her chair out. John sighed.
“Elliot,” he started, reaching for her hand.
She yanked it out of his reach and said, under the sound of Joey chatting pleasantly with Scarlet about the older woman’s garden, “Don’t fucking touch me.”
Her words were venomous. John was certain that Scarlet heard her, too—if the quick, furtive glance their way was any kind of indication—which only made them sting more, like maybe her mother had wanted them to be at odds this whole time and he’d just done exactly that. And hearing Elliot say that kind of thing to him when she so frequently confided in him that she found his touch to be grounding, calming to her just made it all the worse.
John retracted his hand, reluctantly, and instead picked up his beverage from the table to take a big swallow. He let a minute or so pass, muddling his way through Joey’s pleasant conversation with Elliot’s mother and her own parents before he cleared his throat and said, “I’ll be right back.”
“I think that’s best,” Scarlet replied, and sipped her martini.
Inhaling through his nose, John made his way back into the house—this time, under less-fun pretenses; last time he’d been following Elliot to slide his hands up under her skirt, but now she’s—
“Are you fucking stupid?” Elliot demanded once he’d stepped foot inside the kitchen.
“Don’t be mad,” he tried, reaching for her, “I was just working the—”
“If you say working the room in reference to telling my mother we are planning on having children soon,” the blonde ground out, tugging her arms out of reach of his hands, “you’d better pick a god and start fucking praying, John Seed.”
“Okay! I’m sorry!” John exclaimed. “Your mom really hates me. I saw an opportunity to score some points, and I went for it. You missed the whole conversation earlier where she asked me if having tattoos means I go to hell, according to Joseph.”
Elliot stared at him. She was clearly still pissed off, arms crossed over her chest and a pretty, frustrated little blush rising in her cheeks. John lifted his hands, like he was afraid of spooking her (or maybe preparing to dodge a blow), before he said, “I’m sorry. I’ll go right out there and tell her in no uncertain terms will I be fucking a baby into you any time soon.”
“Good,” she snapped, letting his hands come to her face now. He cradled his palms against her cheeks, watching the little furrow of her brows, the way the blush under her cheeks made her freckles come to life.
“Unless you want me to,” John added, tucking some hair behind her ear, “because that’s pretty sexy, and we can do it right here in this kitchen, if you’d like.”
“Speak for me again, and I’ll punch you in the throat.”
“O-kay, message received loud and clear.” He leaned down and pressed a kiss to the corner of her mouth, chaste and innocent as can be. “So, no fucking in the kitchen?”
“Okay, okay, just checking.” He could feel her smiling reluctantly against his mouth, and he said, “So you want me to go out there and make a big fool of myself in front of your mom, huh?”
Elliot sighed. “I know she’s—a lot. I know she’s not kind to you. But please, please do not entertain this weird legacy fantasy that she has. You know she doesn’t even want me to take someone else’s last name? It’s fucking insane. Honeysett isn’t even her maiden name.”
John hummed in understanding, and then kissed her once, twice, three times. “For you, I will suffer the consequences of my actions,” he promised. “But for you and only you.” He saluted dutifully. “Into the fire.”
She watched him, mouth twisting in amusement as he wandered towards the patio’s sliding door again. “Godspeed, soldier.”
He heaved a sighed.
“It’s not much, but it’s honest work.”
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