I’m closing in on a decade living in the South, but I was still born a Yankee, and most of you folks will always consider me one. That means that until recently, when I heard the word “peas,” I thought of those bland, wrinkly green things that usually come in a can, which are properly called “English peas.”
Southern peas (those are pink-eyes at left) are available fresh all summer long, and frozen all year round. You cook them (and they taste) more like beans: Simmering in liquid until nice and soft. And to make them properly, you have to start with some kind of cured or smoked pork product: Bacon, smoked sausage, or smoked ham hocks are standard, and any work well.
You also have to serve peas with cornbread. I won’t step on any toes by proclaiming one recipe the best, but anything that’s easy on the sugar will work. (I use the recipe printed on the bag of McEwen & Sons cornmeal.) If you’re feeling adventurous, Cooking Light‘s Chipotle-Bacon Corn Bread is really tasty too. I like to crumble my cornbread into the peas, but you can pour them on top of a piece or just eat it on the side as well.
My recipe is pretty traditional. I like it pretty herby; you can cut back on the thyme or leave it out if you want. One important ingredient is the chicken stock (not broth)—it gives the peas better body and deeper flavor. I use homemade (there’ll be a post on that soon), which is unsalted; if you use canned you may need to cut down on the salt.
Pot o’ Peas
6 oz. bacon or smoked sausage, sliced 1/4-in. thick (or 1 to 2 smoked ham hocks)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz. fresh peas (black-eyed, pink-eyed, lady peas, or whatever else you got), rinsed and picked over
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
2 to 3 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried or 1 tbsp. fresh thyme
Pinch cayenne pepper
Apple cider vinegar
Cook bacon, sausage, or ham hock in a medium saucepan over medium heat 5 minutes or until cooked through and beginning to brown. (If using sausage or ham hock, you may want to add 1 to 2 tsp. vegetable oil to help cook evenly.) Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, 7 to 10 minutes more, or until softened and beginning to brown. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds.
Add remaining ingredients, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until peas are desired texture. (I like my peas with a little hint of a bite to them so I usually go 45 minutes to an hour. If you like them really soft, cook for 90 minutes.) Add a splash of vinegar, and more salt and pepper to taste. If desired, mash some of the peas with the back of a spoon to thicken the cooking liquid. Serve with cornbread.