a hoppin’ John experiment

This recipe for Hoppin’ John from America’s Test Kitchen’s Light and Healthy  cookbook was loaded with salt. I decided to try and cut it down by using water instead of low-sodium canned broth, and to cut down on the fat and carbs by using turkey ham and bacon instead of pork.

2 teaspoons canola oil
1 (1 pound) boneless turkey ham steaks, 3/4 inch thick
6 slices turkey bacon, crisp and crumbled
2 celery ribs, minced
1 onion, minced (about 1 cup)
4-8 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
4 cups low sodium chicken broth (substitute 4 cups water plus 2 chicken bouillon cubes)
1 (16 oz) bag frozen black-eyed peas (instead of 2)
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice, rinsed
3 scallions, sliced thin

I don’t have a Dutch oven so I used my Calphalon Everyday pan to heat up the oil. Then I fried the turkey ham steaks 3 minutes on each side. Meanwhile, I crisped the turkey bacon in the microwave.

After removing the steaks to cool, I added the celery and onion to the oil in the pan and fried them until they were tender, about 4-6 minutes. Then I added 6 minced garlic cloves (add more or less to taste) and the fresh thyme and cooked them until they were fragrant, about 30 seconds. Then instead of the broth, I added 4 cups water and two chicken bouillon cubes for flavor, 1 bag (instead of two) frozen blackeyed peas, and the bay leaves. I let the mixture cook for 20 minutes on medium heat. When it came to a simmer, I reduced the heat to low. While the broth mixture was cooking, the ham had cooled enough. I sliced it into 1/2 inch cubes and set it aside.

After 20 minutes, I added the white rice. Now, the original method says to spread a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil on top of the pan  resting it on top of the rice-broth mixture, then cover. Cook on low heat for 20 minutes, stirring and changing the foil twice during cooking. Then I was to remove it from the heat and let it rest, covered, for 10 minutes.

Unfortunately, this did not work for me. After 20 minutes the rice was still slightly raw rather than just cooked. Either it was the pan, which doesn’t have the high sides of a Dutch oven, or it was the foil which didn’t completely seal all the edges. What I did to salvage the dish was to let it steam-cook on low heat for an additional 10 minutes instead of letting it rest.

Then I tossed in the turkey ham cubes, the scallion, and the crumbled bacon. This version of Hoppin’ John was lightly salted but not very flavorful. The turkey ham was hearty and just like pork, but the turkey bacon is a sad substitute for the real thing. My instinct, from years of cooking rice, is that it is best left undisturbed during the steaming process, and that once sealed, with the foil and the cover, it shouldn’t be opened until the cooking time is up. I will have to try this recipe again to test this theory. Or try it next time in the rice cooker. Like my foray into baking meringues and pavlovas, Hoppin’ John is a work in progress!

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