The Nasty Bits: Black Eyed Peas with Ham Hock

Last week I learned that if you put into your search field the term "black eyed peas," the only results you'll find pertain to a very popular hip-hop band that goes by that name. Best to add "recipe" to your search, or better yet, "black eyed peas + ham hock," if what you want is that classic Southern dish of slowly simmered beans and smoked meat instead of the song, "My Humps."

You'll recall that a few months ago I wrote a post extolling the merits of smoked meats in soups and stews. All winter long I worked my way through the smoked pig's tails, smoked turkey wings, smoked pork neck, and smoked hocks I bought in one fell swoop from a guy peddling Southern foodstuffs in a truck in Manhattan's Harlem.


Down to my last ham hock, I decided to revisit one of my favorite dishes from the South where a side of black eyed peas might be served alongside meatier entrees like fried chicken. But it seems to me that if you make a pot of black eyed peas with a sizeable piece of meat in the mix, then adding more meat on top of that would be overkill. I want nothing more than a side of stewed greens with my black eyed peas, please. A ham hock, that region of the pig's leg that corresponds to our calves, has an ideal ratio of bone to skin to tendon to meat with which to stew the beans; and although you could use just about any kind of bean you want, I'm extremely partial to the taste and texture of black eyed peas.

Black eyed peas taste like a creamy adzuki (red bean) to me. Though you'll add aromatics and herbs to your pot, the relationship that counts is between legume and smoked meat. Simmered with a ham hock, the beans take on the flavor of the meat so that every bite of the dish tastes like beans gently infused with the sweet perfume of smoked pork. It tastes like the pig ate a magical black-eyed pea plant, and a crop of the legumes grew inside the pig, and then you butchered the pig and harvested the beans and used its hock for the dish, or something to that effect. The hock, in sum, makes the black eyed peas transformatively good.