Crispy Hoppin' John by Valerie Erwin

For many Pennsylvania families, New Year’s Day means chowing down on pork and sauerkraut. But pork and sauerkraut isn’t the only way to attract fortune. Cultures around the world each have their own lucky New Year’s dishes.

Quite a few of these are represented in Philly, including this dish enjoyed by people in the South Carolina Lowcountry region. Chef Valerie Erwin, formerly of Geechee Girl Cafe, provided the following recipe.

Hoppin’ John

by Valerie Erwin

Authentic Hoppin’ John is made by cooking black-eyed peas and rice together to form a fluffy (and tricky) pilaf. What we served most often at Geechee Girl was Crispy Hoppin’ John. It’s much easier to make and is a tribute to the lunch dish our father made with leftover rice and beans. (In a Geechee household, there are ALWAYS leftover rice and beans.)

Here’s the recipe for black-eyed peas and ham and the technique for making it into crispy Hoppin’ John. But don’t get too caught up in details; you can make it with canned black-eyeds; you can make it vegetarian. But in true Geechee spirit, use delicious long grained rice. We use jasmine rice.

Black-eyed peas and ham

Makes 3 qts. Can be frozen.

¼ c vegetable oil
1 lb blackeye peas, rinsed
2 c small dice onions
1 c small dice carrots
¾ c small dice celery
1 ½ TB dry thyme
¼ lb ham or ham scraps
2 qt water
1-2 tbsp salt or to taste
1 tsp pepper

Heat the oil and saute the onions, carrots and celery for 10 minutes until a little tender. Rinse the black-eyed peas and then add them and the thyme. Stir a couple of times and add the water and the ham.

Cook for 35-45 minutes, adding more water if the peas are not covered. When the peas are tender, add the salt (amount depends on the saltiness of the ham) and the pepper and simmer briefly. Chop up the ham and stir in.

Crispy Hoppin’ John

Mix together equal amounts of peas (including some liquid) and rice. Heat a heavy skillet slowly over moderate heat and add fat such as bacon fat, corn oil or olive oil.

Put in a thick layer of the rice and pea mixture and sauté slowly until the bottom is crispy. Turn and repeat on other side. Don’t worry if it crumbles; it’s not supposed to stay in a cake.

Make it in batches if you’re making a lot.

Danya Henninger was first editor and then editor/director of Billy Penn at WHYY from 2019 to 2023.