I wasn't sure it was possible, but our new, improved Red Beans & Rice recipe got better. Well, actually, it kinda got transformed into Peas & Rice, a.k.a. Peezy Reezy, and then it got better.
It all had to do with some heirloom Sea Island Red Peas and Carolina Gold Rice that we'd gotten from the good people at Anson Mills earlier this year. They came in the simple, but lovely, bags you see above, and, as per the instructions marked on the bag, we'd had them sitting in our freezer for the last several months, just waiting for an opportunity to shine. And, with a little advice from Anson Mills' website, that's exactly what we gave them: an opportunity to shine and shine bright.
Red Peas are exactly that--they're peas not beans. But these particular red peas--an heirloom variety from the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia--cook much more quickly than red beans, they're packed with flavor, and they have an extraordinary texture that creates a full-bodied gravy while remaining perfectly, appealingly toothsome. As the folks at Anson Mills point out, this variety of field peas and its preparation have a long and illustrious history. Not only is red pea gravy the kind of dish described by the old (or should that read olde) English rhyme "Pease porridge hot," but the Gullah name Peezy Reezy is also related to the ancient Italian dish risi e bisi, which, as Marcella Hazan points out, is often misunderstood as being a risotto with peas, but which is actually "a soup, albeit a very thick one" (in other words, a "pease porridge").
Our new, improved Red Beans & Rice recipe made do with just water--the combination of the beans, the herbs, and the various forms of pork created a rich gravy quite naturally. But here we took the advice of Anson Mills and began with their Smoked Ham and Chicken Stock. They describe this stock as "the backbone" of their Red Peas and Rice recipe, and note that "canned chicken broth is not an acceptable substitute in terms of flavor or body" [my emphasis]. God knows we had plenty of beautiful ham and ham bones kicking around just waiting to be put to use, and it truly is a wonderful stock.
Smoked Ham and Chicken Stock
1 lb smoked pork neck bones or ham hocks
1 lb chicken wings or necks
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and chopped
2 small carrots, peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 Turkish bay leaf
6 parsley stems
2 quarts spring or filtered water
Combine all the ingredients in a heavy 4- or 5-gallon stockpot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until the stock is rich in flavor, about 3 hours. Remove from the heat and strain the stock through a fine sieve into a large mixing bowl. There should be 4 cups. Pick the meat from the ham bones and reserve it to add later, if you so desire. Discard the remaining bones, meat, and vegetables. Cover the stock and refrigerate. Before using, remove the congealed fat from the surface of the stock with a spoon and discard.
So we began with this Ham and Chicken stock, and we applied it to our Red Beans & Rice recipe, replacing the red beans with the Sea Island red peas and the pickled pork with another big, ole ham bone, but otherwise following the recipe to a T, so that we ended up with Sea Island Red Peas & Rice.
I should point out that Anson Mills suggested a very particular way to prepare their Carolina Gold Rice. Not only is this rice an heirloom variety (perhaps even the American heirloom variety: they call it "the grandfather of long grain rices in the Americas"), but all of Anson Mills' rice is new-crop rice. Cooked according to standard methods, a "sticky finish" will result. Cooked carefully according to Anson Mills' suggestions, however, and "you will be rewarded with a dish of such simple refinement" that it's known as "Charleston ice cream" in the Lowcountry. Sound good? We certainly thought so.
Classic Separate-Grain Rice
1 cup Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice
1 tbsp fine sea salt, plus a bit more for seasoning
6 cups spring or filtered water
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 300º F.
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a heavy-bottomed 3 1/2-quart saucepan. Add the rice, stir once, and return to a boil. As soon as the water boils, reduce the heat. Simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the rice is just tender with no hard starch at its center, about 15 minutes. Drain the rice through a fine, colander and rinse well with cool water. Shake the colander to get rid of excess water.
Spread the rice evenly over a rimmed baking sheet. Place it in the oven to dry, turning it gently from time to time with a spatula, about 5 minutes. Dot the rice with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Return the sheet to the oven and continue turning the rice periodically until the butter has melted and the rice is hot, about 5 minutes more. Transfer to a warm serving bowl and serve immediately.
Makes 4 cups.
As was the case with the Red Beans & Rice, serve mounds of the Carolina Gold rice in bowls, covering the rice with generous ladlefuls of the red pea gravy and sprinkling green onions on top.
Not only does this combination produce another fantastic, deeply soulful Southern dish, but it's a New Year's classic, both peas and beans having long associations with the New Year and good luck. Feeling lucky? You will when you dig in to either of these dishes.
P.S.--For more about Anson Mills, check out their website. Unfortunately, they don't ship to Canada, but they will ship to your friends anywhere in the United States, and there are absolutely no restrictions against you or your friends driving such a shipment of rice, peas, grits, farro, etc., across the border.