Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fresh black-eyed peas with ham

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Every week I buy something from my favorite lady at the farmers' market. She had the best green garlic in the spring, and I've always loved her strawberries and radishes. She sells nopales (cactus paddles), too, trimmed and diced; I can't resist, even though I'm never quite sure what to do with them.

Today she had a huge pile of fresh black-eyed peas. The pods were beautiful - long and thin, dark green, with subtle bulges where the fat beans lay inside. I'd never bought them before, but of course I was fascinated.

There was a woman picking through the pods carefully, filling a bag. She was humming to herself as she sorted them with her long fingers. She looked like she knew what she was doing, so I asked her how she cooks them.

"Get yourself a ham hock," she told me. "Boil it up in some water for an hour, then add the beans and cook 'em till they're soft. They're goo-oo-ood." Seeing Emery with me, she tilted her head his way: "Make him do the shellin'," she added.

I didn't have to make him, of course. He shelled willingly. It took a while, too, and I was glad for the help. I did exactly as instructed: bought a ham hock at Bob's Market, which Richard the butcher kindly chopped into a few pieces; simmered it in water in my cast-iron dutch oven; added the shelled beans and a little more water. An hour later the beans were soft and smokey, the ham was falling apart, and the broth was...was...I can't even describe how delicious it was. No words. Me, without an adjective - can you believe it? Doesn't happen very often, you know.

I have no southern roots, and I didn't grow up cooking with ham. But now that I know, I'm never letting go. I'm sure some ancestor is rolling over in a grave somewhere. Oh well. 

Fresh black-eyed peas with ham hock
  • 1 2-lb ham hock, cut into several pieces by your helpful butcher if possible
  • 2 lbs fresh black-eyed peas (yields about 3 cups shelled)
  • salt to taste
Put the ham hock in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, cover the pot, and simmer. This softens the ham and imparts a lot of delicious, salty, smokey flavor to the cooking liquid.

Meantime, shell the black-eyed peas. It's tough going; the pods don't zip open easily when they're really fresh. Have patience. Recruit an assistant. Put on some good music. You'll be there a while. It's okay, because the ham hock needs to simmer for a while. In fact, it needs to simmer for exactly as long as it takes you to shell the beans. Convenient, yes?

Add the shelled black-eyed peas to the ham in the pot, and top it off with a little more water if you need it. Simmer the mixture about an hour, until the beans are very soft and the ham can be shredded easily with a fork. Taste and add salt to your liking. Remove the ham hocks from the beans and put them on a cutting board; discard the bones and shred the meat, taking out any fat or gristle.

Drain the beans of most of their liquid and put them in a serving bowl. Do not throw away the liquid; it's ambrosia. I used mine to cook another pot of beans - dried this time - which I'll put in the freezer for another time. Add the shredded ham to the black-eyed peas and serve.


Chef Bee said...

How cool to shell them yourself. Looks great too.

Plan B

Chef Dennis Littley said...

now that is a wonderful treat....fresh black eyed peas and hamhocks....its been soooooo long....sigh
thanks so much for sharing this delightful dish with us!

Monet said...

How wonderful! I grew up on black eyed peas, so this post made me think back to my grandmother and all of her wonderful cooking. I have never seen black eyed peas in their pods before, which was exciting. I'm so glad that you enjoyed them!

Lynne @ CookandBeMerry said...

I really like your writing, Erika, and I bet your peas and ham taste as good as they look. Mmmm.

Erika Kerekes said...

@Chefs Bee and Dennis - shelling them was fun. I love tactile work like that. So relaxing.

@Monet - how did your grandmother make black-eyed peas? Now I'm curious how everyone else does it. This method seemed too easy, but it's completely fabulous. I bet it would work just as well with the dried ones, although of course it would cook longer.

@Lynne - you flatter me. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh yum! This sounds and looks wonderful! I've never cooked with ham and my husband won't eat it. I may have to make it and have him eat blindfolded!

I just thought about going to the farmer's market a couple of months ago and then learned they are closed for the atrociously hot summer here in the desert. Looking forward to when they reopen.

Erika Kerekes said...

@cookbookapprentice - does your husband eat turkey? I bet a smoked turkey leg would work equally well and be almost as delicious.

Casey said...

I certainly don't know why Foodgawker rejected that photo, but I'm glad you tweeted about it, because it brought me to read this post. Even though the taste of the final dish left you speechless (or more specifically, adjectiveless), you still manage to convey just how delicious it was. And easy enough I might even try it!


Lentil Breakdown said...

This was a really nice post. I wrote today about black-eyed peas with kosher ham hocks—a slightly different take. ; )

Unknown said...

My grandmother (we are Southerners) never shelled the peas--she just snapped them as if the were greenbeans and cooked them with a Hock, Neckbone, or maybe some smoked pig tails with a little chopped onion. Don't forget the cornbread when you serve this delicacy -- Southerners put a good size piece of cornbread on the plate, spoon blackeyed peas over the top, and then top that all with chopped fresh onion. Yankees beware!!!

Erika Kerekes said...

@Floyd that is good to know - not having to shell them will save a lot of time!

Anonymous said...

we shell while listening to Jerry Jeff Walker. Keeps it southern

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