First and foremost: Happy New Year to you. I hope this year brings you everything you wished for as well as dreams you never dared imagine. Seriously, I hope it brings me these things to. I could use a reasonable year.
For the record, last night I rang in the new year at Butcher & Larder. I don’t remember ever ringing in the new year with such a wonderful group of people, and I am not just saying that, these folks were fun, funny, wonderful near strangers I randomly decided to join. That said, it was also a particularly delicious evening. We shared course after course of, basically, fat. Whipped, cured, shaved, potted, we had it all. Topped by a chestnut dessert, which I found kinda fitting since chestnuts are probably the most fat-like nut. And while I am not one for detailing meals in a blog post, I will share that I posted a few highlights on Twitter.
Suffice it to say, I hope I get invited back and make butcher shop dining a New Year’s tradition.
Which brings me to the real topic of this post: the tradition of peas.
I can’t remember any New Year’s tradition from my childhood. In fact, when I started writing this, I called my mom to ask what we did, her response was: “Beats me.” When pressed, her answer expanded to: “We might have gone out every once in a while, I guess. But really, not a whole lot.”
Which is probably why I have spent most of my adult life trying to establish a firm tradition for myself to mark this most auspicious day.
I’ve tried on much: Krug champagne smuggled into the midnight showing of Cape Fear, wearing yellow underwear a la Barbados one New Year’s spent on a cruise ship, reading melted solder with one of Dick Cheney’s former business partners on the Mellinnium, standing in front of a burning hawthorne bush the year I lived in London.
But as I settled into my life, I seemed to have fallen into making an annual breakfast of black eyed peas on New Year’s Day.
Really, this makes no sense. My parents are from Boston and aside from a handful of years in Orange County, I am solidly a Chicagoan. But it is what it is and so this morning, a full-on black-eyed pea breakfast is what I made.
You likely already know that eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day is about good luck. To most Americans, the tradition hails from the south. But in reality, despite that honking ham hock that flavors most pots of peas in these parts, eating black eyed peas on New Year’s is a Sephardic tradition, celebrated for the Jewish new year.
So, as a nod to the Sephardi history of my peas, I like to include a pomegranate in my New Year’s Day meal. This year, I tossed that pomegranate into a quick salad of shaved Tuscan kale from the hoop house, parsley and cilantro from the garden itself, because the weather is so crazy it is still thriving, and walnuts.
Basically a version of Mary Klonowski’s Cancer-Curing Miracle Kale Salad, it was dressed with smashed garlic, good olive oil and vinegar. I got into vinegar last year so today, my kale got a syrupy Pepe Nero vinegar. If you haven’t tried making crazy vinegars, I recommend it highly. Honey vinegar, made with a moldy piece of bread, has pretty much become my go-to vinegar for anything and everything.
First off, you should know that I cook dried peas. Black eyed peas are often available fresh but that kinda makes no sense for New Year’s Day. Traditionally planted as a cover crop before the winter wheat, the fresh peas would be available in late summer, early fall (for the clever reader, you’ll note this is around Rosh Hashanah). So, fresh black eyed peas in Chicago in winter, even this crazy winter, is just forced agriculture. So, I use dried.
Black eyed peas are only soaked for 4-6 hours, unlike the convenient bean-soak of overnight, so it can be a little challenging to get them on the table for breakfast. So, I pressure cook them. If completely crippled by a hang over, one could get them cooked in a pressure cooker in about 10 or so minutes. My process takes me a half hour because I go thru a few extra steps to make sure I have super delish peas.
So, here’s the process: saute onion in (insert any high smoke point but I use coconut) oil, add diced onion and saute. Then add a meaty hunk of cured pork (usually a hock), add about 1/2 cup of water (I really have no idea, I just dump in water, it could be a cup) and pressure cook that for about 10 minutes. Pressure cooking the pork softens it up and makes a tasty jus. Take the pork out of the pan and dice it up into smallish pieces. This way, when you eat your beans, you get little pieces of tasty pork along with them.
This year, the hefty hunk my peas got was from the country ham I cured in my garage last year. For a year a pork leg that had been brined in blackstrap molasses and bourbon rested in a old pillow case tied to the rafters of my garage.
Crazy levels of hillbilly working with that ham.
And probably the crowning point of my culinary life thusfar.
Which I guess says a lot since my culinary life thus far includes cooking for Julia Child. (It was one part of one course, if you must know, not the whole meal).
This ham is making me quite proud.
But I am writing about peas.
After the pork is cooked and diced, add it back to the pan and add in the peas. Add in some water to cover and some flavorings (a tea ball filled with whole cumin, coriander, black pepper and red pepper flakes is a good start) and cook on high for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let the cooker come back to reasonable temperature on it’s own.
Boom, good luck breakfast.
Well, I also made cornbread, using Ruhlman’s Ratio app. There is a book, too, but I find the app to be amazingly helpful since I tend to have my phone nearby and it is small enough to perch it somewhere convenient.
As I started eating, marking the new year with a lovely meal and remembering the year that just past, the sun came out after a rainy/snowy/gray/cold morning walk. I am choosing to decide this is an auspicious sign that the coming year will be peaceful and delicious.