In terms of seasoning, Fudgy Brabham’s hoppin’ John – which he’s prone to call a neck bone perloo – doesn’t call for much: salt, pepper and a fair amount of pork fat.
But Brabham believes the secret to cooking is seasoning with care. He learned that lesson from his mother who as a young girl in Eutawville took on the task of feeding her family after her mother got sick.
“She said that when you must make the same thing taste different for days in a row, you learn,” Brabham says.
Brabham credits his mother and two domestic workers, Hattie McLaughlin and Ferlise Smalls, with teaching him the kitchen skills he used to develop this hoppin’ John, which he spent years perfecting.
“You can give someone a premium cut of meat or other product and most of the time the dish will turn out fairly well,” he says. “My interest has become taking the lesser-quality products and turning them into a dish that would be exceptional in taste and flavor. The dish below fits that description perfectly.”
Fudgy Brabham’s hoppin’ John
6 to 8 lbs. smoked pork neck bones
2 16-ounce bags of dried field peas
1 stick of unsalted butter
5 celery ribs, diced
2 medium onions, sliced
2 cups white rice, uncooked
¼ cup vegetable oil
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
Place all but two of the neck bones in a large oven-safe pot. Cover with water. Lightly salt the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for at least three hours, checking every 30 minutes to make sure the water hasn’t fully evaporated; add water to keep neck bones covered.
While the neck bones are simmering, place reserved neck bones in a large stockpot. Add field peas and cover with water. Lightly salt the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for at least two hours, or until peas are tender. Remove pot from heat. Do not drain.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place a colander over a large bowl or pot. Drain neck bones, reserving the liquid. Set neck bones aside. Once cool, trim any fat or gristle.
Add butter to the oven-safe pot in which the neck bones were cooked. Begin to melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add celery and onions to the pot, sautéing until the vegetables begin to caramelize, approximately 20 minutes. Add cooked neck bones to the pot and stir. Add three cups of the cooked field peas to the pot and stir. Add rice and oil to the pot and stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.
Add two cups of the reserved neck bone liquid to the pot, and two cups of liquid from the field peas. Taste the broth and adjust seasoning. Stir.
Place the oven-safe pot in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. To check whether the hoppin’ John is done, press a spoon in the center of the mixture: If the well fills with more than ¼-inch of water, continue cooking.
Remove pot from the oven and cover loosely. After 15 minutes, fluff the rice with a serving fork to release the steam. Serve.
Editor’s note: Fudgy Brabham’s hoppin’ John is one of four competing in The Post and Courier Food section’s recipe contest for a category crown. Over the course of a year, the newspaper will publish four reader-supplied recipes for each of 12 iconic Lowcountry dishes.
Featured recipes have been lightly edited to conform with the newspaper’s style, but they have not been tested: It’s up to readers to choose a winner. To weigh in on the okra soup race, join us at bit.ly/PCfoodFBgroup.