My boyfriend hates black-eyed peas. I don’t blame him. Just about everywhere you go, you find the same gritty, muddy textured peas sitting in a thick, pasty gravy that ends up looking grey and unappealing. However, I love black-eyed peas — I just don’t love everybody’s. Not too many people make this dish the proper way, and the end result is usually a mushy, mealy, disrespectful version of this southern classic. If you’re tired of eating mealy, gritty black-eyed peas, grab my hand and let me take you on a journey.
This recipe is special to me. It’s one of those meals that has converted many a black-eyed pea hater from far and wide. I wasn’t gonna share this one, for years I bit my tongue. But I’m feeling generous, and quite frankly, I’d like to help save you if you’ve ever had trouble making this dish. I know it may seem corny to some, but I don’t care, I’m dedicating this recipe to my mom. She is the reason I love black-eyed peas, and these taste exactly like hers. I remember how the heavenly aroma used to drive me crazy because it would be hours before I was allowed to eat it. Dinner took so damn long as a kid. Bittersweet, but worth the wait. There’s nothing like a warm bowl full of soul.
Here’s the thing..
We’re using dried beans, and we’re soaking them overnight. I’m sorry if you’re too lazy for all of that, but I’m sure there are other short-cut recipes out there for you — this is for those of you who want to spend a little time and love in your kitchen. Now that we’ve got that squared away, let’s proceed. Dried beans just taste better for this recipe, and produce the silkiest, creamiest, melt-in-your-mouth results. We’re not just soaking them in water, we’re going to brine them. That means we’re adding salt to the soaking water to allow the salt to soften the skins of the beans without making the interiors gritty and mealy — which is exactly what happens when you don’t brine, but instead add the salt during the cooking process. The salt ends up softening the skins, but it penetrates the bean and alters the texture for the worse, so we’re going to prevent that by giving the beans a simple overnight brine. You can do this for any dried bean.
We’re also cooking them in the oven. Why? Because they cook more evenly. Think about it, when they’re on top of the stove, that heat source is only coming from the bottom. This is another reason why beans usually burst and give the overall dish a pasty, dry texture.The beans at the bottom of the pot are cooking at a much faster rate than the rest of the beans, and that’s not a good thing. By allowing the heat from the oven to hit every corner of the dutch oven from top to bottom, our beans cook at a more even rate and we can prevent a bean blowout. Make sense? Mkay..
The key ingredient that gives the peas their UHMAZING flavor, is the hamhock. That’s just the bottom line. It’s a salty, fatty, sinfully delicious little bastard that exudes its wonderful salty pork flavor into the beans and makes the heart sing. Of course if you are one of those silly swine-haters (lol), you can totally leave it out. Just know you’ll have to step up your seasoning game because the hamhocks here provide us with 95% of the salt content. Because I used salted pork fat to sauté my onions with just a good additional pinch of grey sea salt, I didn’t have to add ANY additional salt to the finished dish. It was perfect.
You could use smoked turkey wings in place of the hamhocks, and you can totally skip the salted pork or bacon. This recipe is pretty straightforward, but I wanted to make sure it was easily adaptable just in case there happened to be one lone vegetarian reading my meaty blog. Oh, and instead of low-sodium chicken stock, you could use vegetable stock. I also explain how to make “stew’y” peas vs. brothy ones — you can decide which version is better suited for your tastes though.
*For this recipe you’ll need a large 6qt dutch oven, or large oven-proof heavy-bottom stockpot, a wooden spoon, and a blender or food processor — or hand-held immersion blender (which is what I used).
Oh! Just in case you’re wondering, after trying my black-eyed peas, the boyfriend now loves and adores them. He spooned them into his mouth, shook his head with frustration and said, “Those are the best I’ve ever had in my life. That is exactly how they should taste, I don’t even need teeth to eat those!” and then he started cussing lol. Ahh, the simple joys of a good home cook 🙂
- 3 qts water
- 3 tbsp coarse grey sea salt (any salt will work)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 smoked hamhocks
- 6 oz salted pork (or bacon), chopped or sliced into chunks
- 2 medium onions, diced (about 2 cups)
- 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- ½ - 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- coarse grey sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- ⅛ - ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 4 cups water
- 1 lb dried black-eyed peas, brined overnight and rinsed well
- 1 tsp fresh thyme
- Pour the dried beans onto a plate and discard any stones or discolored peas. Stir and dissolve 3 tablespoons of coarse grey sea salt in 3 quarts of water. Add the beans and cover with plastic wrap. Brine the beans overnight at room temperature (on your kitchen counter). The next day before you're ready to cook your beans, dump them into a colander and rinse well under cool water.
- Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large 6-qt dutch oven, over medium-high heat. Add the salted pork or bacon and cook until some of the fat has rendered, about 4 minutes. Add the hamhocks and cook everything together until the pork has crisped, about another 10 minutes or so. When the pork has crisped up, remove it and the hamhocks from the pot and onto a plate, leaving the oil in the pot. Set aside to cool. Reduce the heat to medium.
- Add the diced onions to the leftover oil, and stir with a wooden spoon until the onions have picked up any flavor bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add a good pinch of the grey sea salt to the onions to help them release their liquids a bit more and soften up. Add the crushed red pepper, black pepper, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, and smoked paprika to the onions, stirring until combined. Continue to cook the onions down until they've become translucent and have softened (be careful not to burn them, if they're browning too quickly, lower the heat and/or add a little more oil), about 7-10 minutes. Once the onions have softened and more flavor has developed at the bottom of the pot, de-glaze with the white wine (off heat). Bring the pot back to the heat and cook until most of the wine has evaporated and you can leave trails with your wooden spoon, about 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
- Place the hamhocks back into the pot and add the chicken broth and water. Add the beans and make sure they're covered by the liquid. It's up to you whether or not you want to add the salt pork or bacon back to the pot now at this point. Bring everything up to a boil, cover and place the dutch-oven into your 300 degree oven on the lower middle rack to continue cooking for 1 hour.
- Remove the hamhocks from the pot and place on a small plate or cutting board. Remove as much meat from each hamhock as you can, being sure not to add any of the super fatty pieces. Once you've extracted the meat, chop it into small bite-sized pieces and add it back to the pot. Place the bones of the hamhocks in the pot as well, and stir to combine. Cook an additional 15 minutes. Check the doneness of the peas. Once they're creamy, smooth, and melt-in-your-mouth, they're ready. Remove from oven.
- Here's where you tailor this dish to your own black-eyed pea preference. If you like your peas more on the brothy side, you can leave them alone and skip to the last 2 steps. If you like your peas on the stewy side, remove 2 cups of the broth only, into a bowl and set aside. Ladle an additional 2 cups of the bean and broth mixture into a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth. Add pureed beans back to the pot to give the dish a last touch of creaminess. Keep in mind this dish will thicken slightly as it cools. If you need to thin it out, use some of the reserved cooking liquid -- but if they're perfect and to your liking, discard it. Alternately, you could use the back of a spoon to mash some of the beans against the sides of the pot to give the dish more body. Give it a taste and season as necessary -- although you may not have to do anything. Finish by adding a teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves, stirring until combined.
- Serve and enjoy.