The Home Cook: A Soulful Southern Stew

Growing up, our executive food editor knew nothing of collard greens and ham hocks. Then she had a revelation.
hoppin' john collard stew

Even though I grew up south of the Mason-Dixon line, in Washington, D.C., southern food wasn’t part of my upbringing, much less my DNA. My Yankee mother didn’t know anything about grits, collards, or ham hocks. Fried chicken? Not a chance. (The closest we got to that was her version of oven-fried chicken, which never got crisp.) But then I moved to New York City, and, thanks to places like The Pink Tea Cup in the West Village, I began to get acquainted with how delicious slow-cooked greens could be, and black-eyed peas simmered in a ham hock broth. Southern cohorts here at Gourmet taught me, too. Alexis Touchet, the senior food editor and our resident ragin’ Cajun, hails from southwest Louisiana, and she tutored me on the finer points of gumbo. Jane Daniels Lear, senior articles editor and a Savannah native, has set me straight many times on the real versus the stereotypical when it comes to southern victuals.

So it is with some trepidation that I meddle with an old southern favorite to offer up a recipe that I love to make for a dark winter evening. It’s my riff on the hoppin’ John in The Gourmet Cookbook (Volume 1), a simple dish of black-eyed peas and rice, which is best served with a side of braised greens, collards being the traditional choice, along with the braising liquid, called “pot likker.”

For someone who knew no other cooked green as a kid beyond frozen spinach, collards were a revelation. So what if they turn a dull gray-green after long, slow cooking? Their meaty body and mineral-y essence more than make up for their lack in the beauty department. Adding them to Gourmet’s soupier version of hoppin’ John, which, in any form, isn’t a looker either, seemed like an obvious choice because hey, if you serve them together, why not cook ’em together, too? By doing so I figured the deep sweetness that the collards give up to their cooking liquid would only enrich the smokiness of the ham-infused peas. Spoon this over freshly cooked rice—without the rice it wouldn’t be hoppin’ John—add a dose of hot sauce, and you’ve got yourself one darn good meal.

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