My parents were from the South and I grew up eating Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day. Black eyed peas were cooked and seasoned with the hock from the Christmas ham, some greens and served with cornbread. “Peas for pennies, greens for dollars, and cornbread for gold,” said the old expression. “Eat poor on New Year’s, and eat fat the rest of the year,” echoed the refrain. Steve and I eat this New Year’s Day meal of humble peasant food with our vermin candle holders on the table.
We had acquired a ham a couple of days after Christmas, but when we went to the market, alas, there were no black eyed peas.
Never mind. We picked up some duck legs to make into confit and had some dried haricot vert beans, so I invented a new prosperity dish for the New Year, Jean le canard sautillant. Which more or less translates to John the Hopping Duck, I think.
To make the beans, (I’d clean forgot to soak them on New Year’s Eve) I brought them to the boil and let them stand for an hour before draining them. I sweated an onion and half each of a red, yellow and orange pepper we had in the fridge. Added the beans, ham hock, chunks of ham and seasoned it with oregano, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Then let it cook for several hours on a low heat.
I had remembered to prep the duck legs. As is my wont, I read about 6 recipes and came up with a plan of attack. My first port of call was to consult Larousse Gastronomique, the definitive French cooking encyclopedia and one of my Christmas presents. Its a gorgeous bronze-covered, black-slipcased English edition, weighs in at 8 lbs. and contains 1,206 pages of techniques, recipes and definitions. It is an incredibly interesting and useful resource.
Confit is a piece of pork, goose, turkey or duck cooked in its own fat and stored in a pot, covered in the same fat to preserve it. Since I was only making a couple of duck legs and they wouldn’t be around for very long, I did a quick version in which they were not immersed in fat whilst cooking.
The night before, I seasoned the legs with salt, pepper, fresh thyme and a splash of brandy. The next morning, I put them in a covered dish with a couple of big spoonfuls of goose fat and cooked them in a very low oven (100°C) for a few hours until the meat was fork tender. Then I lifted them from the fat and seared them in a very hot oven (225°) for about 25 minutes to get the skin really crispy.
A fantastic meal to start the new year. BTW, Hoppin’ John isn’t in Larousse Gastronomique. Go figger!