Out of the Archives 4: Eat Your Greens, pt. 2

Here's another must-read/must-see/must-try from the archives.  It first appeared 5 years ago to the day, on November 13, 2010.  As was the case in 2010, now's the time--there are plenty of green tomatoes around, and you can often get them for a song.

fig. a:  time to fry

fig. a:  time to fry

There are still some real green tomatoes kicking around. In fact, depending on where you live, there might still be loads of them. And, along with making your own chowchow, frying them is a pretty great way to make use of the last of the tomato harvest. But even if you find that the green tomatoes in your area have already disappeared, all is not lost. As the Lee Bros. point out, your standard supermarket tomato is effectively a green tomato--it certainly was picked green (generally, very green). So you may need to add a bit of lemon juice and some salt to your sliced supermarket tomatoes to coax out a little flavor and approximate the wonderful, citrusy tartness of a true green tomato, but fried green tomatoes are a classic Southern side that you can make pretty much all year long. If you want to make the real deal, however, and I strongly advise giving them a try, local green tomatoes were still available here in Montreal this week. And their bright, tangy flavor this late in the year made it feel like we were cheating the approach of winter somehow. If only for a moment.

Note: you also need some decent cornmeal to make these fried green tomatoes, and good cornmeal can be hard to find in the Montreal region. The best brand we've been able to locate around here is Indian Head Stone Ground Yellow from Maryland, available at Aubut

fig. b:  B Bros.

fig. b:  B Bros.

Even better is Beattie Bros., which is owned by the same parent company, but produced in North Carolina. Though, as far as we know, you can only get Beattie Bros. in the States.

Fried Green Tomatoes

3 lbs green tomatoes
3 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup whole milk
3-4 cups peanut oil
3 batches fry dredge (recipe follows)
kosher salt, if needed
lemon juice, if needed

Core the stem ends of the tomatoes and slice them in 1/4-inch slices. Set aside. Whisk the eggs and milk together in a broad, shallow bowl.

Pour the oil in a 12-inch or 14-inch skillet (3 cups of oil will suffice for the 12-inch skillet; 4 cups should do for the 14-inch skillet, and the 14-inch skillet will make the task of frying 3 lbs of tomatoes much, much faster--ultimately, whatever size skillet you use, you need an oil depth of about 1/3 of an inch). Heat the oil over medium-high heat until the temperature on a candy thermometer reaches 350º-365º.

Heat the oven to 225 degrees. Set a baker's rack on a cookie sheet on the top rack.

Divide the dredge between two small bowls or shallow baking pans. Taste the tomatoes. "They should have a bright tartness like citrus fruit." If they don't, sprinkle the slices with salt and lemon juice (if you're using supermarket tomatoes, this additional lemon and salt will be necessary). Press 1 tomato slice into the first bowl of dredge on each side, shaking any excess loose. Dunk in the egg mixture, then place in the second bowl of dredge, coating both sides, and shaking any excess loose, before placing the slice on a clean plate. Repeat with more slices until you've dredged enough for a batch (roughly 8-10, if you're using the 14-inch skillet). With a spatula, gently transfer the first batch of slices into the hot oil, taking care not to create splatter, and making sure your temperature continues to hover between 350º-365º.

As the first batch cooks, dredge the second batch according to the directions above, while keeping a watchful eye on the first. Once the slices have fried to a rich golden brown on one side, roughly 2 minutes, flip them carefully and fry for another 2 minutes or so, or until golden brown. Transfer the fried tomatoes to a plate lined with a double thickness of paper towels and leave them to drain for 1 minute.

Transfer the slices to the baker's rack in the oven, arranging them in a single layer, so they remain warm and crisp. Repeat with the remaining slices until all the green tomatoes have been fried. Serve hot with Buttermilk-Lime Dressing (recipe follows).

All-Purpose Dredge

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp stone-ground cornmeal
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper together twice. Stir. Use as directed.

This is a great all-around frying dredge. The Lee Bros. use this very recipe for everything from chicken, to fish, to fried green tomatoes.

Buttermilk-Lime Dressing

3/4 cups whole or lowfat buttermilk (preferably the former)
5 tbsp freshly squeeze lime juice
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp honey
1/2 cup finely minced basil
1/4 cup finely minced green onions
1/4 cup finely minced parsley
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste

In a small bowl, whisk the ingredients together until thoroughly combined. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator not more than 2 days.

[these recipes are based very, very closely on ones that appeared in The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook]

These fried tomatoes make for a fantastic side with any number of dishes, Southern or otherwise. We love 'em with seafood, but then we've been known to have them with barbecue too, and I could easily imagine having them as part of a Thanksgiving dinner. Leftover fried green tomatoes taste pretty outrageous on top of a leftover pulled pork sandwich, too. Especially if you drizzle a little of that Buttermilk-Lime Dressing on top. Just take a look:

fig. c:  deluxe pulled pork sandwich

fig. c:  deluxe pulled pork sandwich

Oh, and speaking of Thanksgiving and the Lee Bros.: if you haven't had the pleasure of reading Matt and Ted's New York Times exposé on Marilyn Monroe's stuffing recipe from 1955-6 (as it appears in Fragments, a just-published collection of previously unreleased Monroe ephemera), you really should. Not only is it a great read, but Marilyn's recipe is both mysterious (ground beef? Parmesan? City Title Insurance Co.?) and tantalizing. Just look at that picture. Just look at that recipe


p.s. Looking for "eat your greens 1"? You can find it here.

Epiphany, pt. 2: the recipes

fig. a:  Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas

fig. a:  Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas

You've read some background on Hoppin' John, now here are the recipes:

1.  John Thorne's master recipe for Hoppin' John in Serious Pig reflects the passion and erudition that went into his chapter on Rice & Beans.

John Thorne's Hoppin' John

1 cup black-eyed peas or cowpeas, soaked and prepared for cooking

1 small chunk of lean slab bacon, sliced thick OR a cracked ham or beef bone OR a chunk of salt pork, sliced and simmered in enough water for 15 minutes to reduce its saltiness

1 onion, chopped

1 cup raw rice

1 hot red pepper, fresh or dried, seeded and diced OR Tabasco sauce to taste

and all, some, or one of the following, according to your taste

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

minced fresh parsley

a little thyme

salt and pepper

Bring 5 cups of water to a boil.  Add the beans, with the bay leaf (if using), and let them simmer for about 45 minutes.  (If you are using a cracked pork or beef bone, you should add it now, too, and ignore all the bacon/salt pork instructions, frying up the onion in a bit of melted fat or oil and adding it when you add the rice.)  While the beans are cooking, prepare the bacon/salt pork by frying it until the pieces are crisp.  Either reserve these until the end of cooking (to lend a touch of crispness) or put them into the beans when the rice is added.  Fry the onion in the fat once the pork has been removed until it is translucent but not brown.  Either way, reserve the fat.

At the end of 45 minutes, taste the beans for doneness; your tongue should be able to mash them against the roof of the mouth.  If they are soft, but not mushy, they are done just right.  Eyeball the remaining liquid in the pot--there should be at least 2 1/2 cups.  If not, add more water.  Pour in the rice and mix in all the other seasonings, the bacon/salt pork bits (unless you're holding them for the end), and all--or as much as you want of--the cooking fat.  Stir the mixture well and bring the liquid to a simmer.  Let cook for another 20 minutes.  Then turn off the heat and let the Hoppin' John rest for 10 minutes.  Taste.  The beans should be just a little more tender, the rice perfectly cooked.  Crumble over the reserved bacon or sprinkle over the crisp salt-pork bits, if any, and serve.  

Serves 4 "very well indeed."

2.  Matt and Ted Lee's The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook features another thoughtful and reliable take on Hoppin' John, which makes great use of their tasty Rich Pork Broth (see below).

Lee Bros. Hoppin' John

1 cup dried black-eyed peas or field peas

2 tbsp olive oil

1 smoked hog jowl (or 1/4 pound slab bacon or 4 slices thick-cut bacon)

1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped

6 cups Rich Pork Broth (see below)

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 tsp salt

14-oz can crushed Italian tomatoes

1 1/2 cups long-grain rice

Wash the peas in a strainer, place them in a medium bowl, and soak for 4 hours in water to cover.

Heat the olive oil in a 4-quart pot over medium-high heat and brown the hog jowl on both sides, about 5 minutes.  (If using bacon, omit the olive oil and simply render the fat in the pot for 5 minutes.)  Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the broth, black pepper, red pepper, and salt and bring to a boil.

Let the broth boil vigorously for 10 minutes, then add the drained peas.  Boil gently over medium-high heat, uncovered, until the peas are tender but still have some bite, about 25 minutes for black-eyed peas, 30 minutes for field peas.  Add the tomatoes and rice to the pot, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer vigorously for 20 minutes, until most of the broth has been absorbed but the rice and peas are still very moist.

Remove the pot from the heat and allow the Hoppin' John to steam, covered, until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 5 minutes.  Remove the hog jowl and pull off any meat.

Fluff the Hoppin' John with a fork.  Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle the shredded hog jowl over top, and serve.

Serves 6 hungry people.

And here's that recipe for their pork broth:

Lee Bros. Rich Pork Broth

shoulder bones from a bone-in pork shoulder or 1 pound pork shank bones and trimmings

1 large onion, chopped

2 large celery stalks, chopped

4 bay leaves

6 cups cold water

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the bones, onion, celery, and bay leaves in a medium stockpot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a vigorous simmer over medium-high heat, then turn the heat to low and simmer gently for 1 hour.

Strain the broth into a bowl through a fine-mesh strainer.  Discard the solids.  Measure the amount of broth that's left.  Taste the broth.  If you don't plan to reduce it further, season it gently with salt and pepper.  

Pour the broth into a container with a tight-fitting lid.  If you're going to use it within 48 hours, keep it in the refrigerator.  Otherwise, place it in the freezer, where it will keep for at least 1 month.

3.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the simplest Hoppin' John recipe can be found in Ernest Matthew Mickler's White Trash Cooking.  

Cook enough black-eyed peas with hog jowls until they are tender.  Cook a cup of rice for every 2 or 3 hungry people.  Stir the rice and peas together and serve.

However, Mickler correctly notes that black-eyed peas aren't the only option.  In the words of his friend Kaye Kay, "You can make it out of crowder, field or cow peas."  

4.  Also unsurprisingly, the most intricate Hoppin' John recipe can be found in Sean Brock's Heritage:  Recipes and Stories.  As prodigiously talented as Brock is, he's got a knack for taking Southern classics and busying them up and even getting finicky with them.  This recipe for Lowcountry Hoppin' John being a case in point:   it features three distinct stages (including an usual drying-of-the-rice step) and almost 20 ingredients (!).  A luscious Red Pea Gravy is an element that forms naturally when you cook up a good batch of Hoppin' John, but Brock insists that it stands out even further, and he uses a blender (!) to achieve this end.  In my mind, the genius of this recipe has to do with its attention to ingredients, especially its insistence that Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas and Carolina Gold Rice--both of them heirloom varieties, both of them of an exceptional quality--be used.

Sean Brock's Hoppin' John (Hoppin' Sean?)


2 quarts Pork Stock or Chicken Stock

1 cup Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas, soaked in a pot of water in the refrigerator overnight

1 1/2 cups medium dice onions

1 cup medium dice peeled carrots

1 1/2 cups medium dice celery

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 

1 fresh bay leaf

10 thyme sprigs

1/2 jalapeño, chopped

Kosher salt


4 cups water

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 

1 cup Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice 

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Red Pea Gravy

Reserved 1 cup cooked red peas

Reserved 2 cups cooking liquid from the peas

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Cider vinegar 

Sliced chives or scallions for garnish 

For the peas:

Bring the stock to a simmer in a small pot. Drain the peas and add to the stock, along with all of the remaining ingredients except the salt. Cook the peas, partially covered, over low heat until they are soft, about 1 hour. Season to taste with salt. (The peas can be cooked ahead and refrigerated in their liquid for up to 3 days; reheat, covered, over low heat before proceeding.)

Drain the peas, reserving their cooking liquid, and measure out 1 cup peas and 2 cups liquid for the gravy; return the rest of the peas and liquid to the pot and keep warm.

Meanwhile, for the rice:

About 45 minutes before the peas are cooked, preheat the oven to 300°F.

Bring the water, salt, and cayenne pepper to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the rice, stir once, and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the rice is al dente, about 15 minutes.

Drain the rice in a sieve and rinse under cold water. Spread the rice out on a rimmed baking sheet. Dry the rice in the oven, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Scatter the butter evenly over the rice and continue to dry it, stirring every few minutes, for about 5 minutes longer. All excess moisture should have evaporated and the grains should be dry and separate.

For the gravy:

Put the 1 cup peas, 2 cups cooking liquid, and the butter in a blender and blend on high until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add cider vinegar to taste.

(The gravy can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept in a covered container in the refrigerator; reheat, covered, over the lowest possible heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.)

To complete:

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the peas to a large serving bowl. Add the rice and carefully toss the rice and peas together. Pour the gravy over them, sprinkle with chives or scallions, and serve.

Serves 6 to 8 hungry souls.

[excerpted from Sean Brock's Heritage:  Recipes and Stories]

Hoppin' John is a complete meal, so you don't really need to serve it with too much else if you're serving it as a main.  A brightly flavoured fresh salad makes a lot of sense.  So does a batch of skillet corn bread.

fig. b:  butter & corn bread

fig. b:  butter & corn bread

What will Benjamin "B.J." Dennis's recipe for Hoppin' John at tonight's Lowcountry/Gullah Nation feast entail?  There's only one way to find out.  I can tell you that he's enormously proud of his Hoppin' John and the traditions that it embodies, and that he'll be using Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas and Carolina Gold Rice to create this definitive Lowcountry delicacy.

Lowcountry on the Lower Main

Montreal - Charleston Connection

B.J. Dennis + Foodlab

Saturday, May 16

5:00 pm - 10:00 pm

Société des arts technologiques

1201, blvd. St-Laurent

Montreal, QC


See you tonight!