Derby Day gave me the motivation to pull the recently-arrived Anson Mills rice and peas from the freezer (yes, they must be kept in the freezer). So while I tried to parse the 20-horse field into a favorite, the menu came together: smoked ham (what passed for country ham in Brooklyn), hoppin’ john, collard greens and home-made biscuits. I had pickled some ramps the day before so served the ham on a bed of quickly wilted ramp greens with finely sliced pickled ramps spooned on top, a sharp tang that added a new note to the smoke and salt in the ham.
I based the hoppin’ john on a Sean Brock recipe, a lowlands Carolinas version that makes perfect use of Carolina Gold rice and red peas – not the usual sticky white rice and black-eyed peas that usually appears around here. I added ham hock to the mix as I didn’t have a pot of pork stock on the boil, more’s the pity. I also garnished with ribboned ramp leaves. After a night’s bath, the red peas were plumped up and ready for the pan and came out silky and toothy. I like hoppin’ john a little soupy, not a ball of dried out beans n rice; the hock gave the broth a little extra shiny goodness and body.
Because the Carolina Gold is newly harvested and fresh, it’s delicate and requires a spell spread out in the oven to dry after being quickly cooked. That gave me pause, but the pearly rice came out of the oven steamy and with distinct kernels.
Soundtrack? Nathan Salsburg’s beautiful, horserace-themed guitar.
Carolina Red Peas, out of the soak, ready for the pan, with collards and ham hock on the boil: